Life in Basra: 'The masked men have vanished, but we're still trapped'

The people of Basra ventured outside for the first time in a week yesterday as the ceasefire declared by the Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr began to take hold.

We heard about the truce on the radio, and there was much less fighting yesterday. At last I began to hope that I can return to my home in Nassariyah from my brother's house in Basra, where I have been trapped since last Tuesday.

One of my nephews, Safa, had begun vomiting a lot, but there was no point in trying to take him to the hospital, all the doctors were very busy. Yesterday Jalil, my brother, took 11-year-old Safa to a doctor who lives about two miles away. I went to see the family of Khalid Hussein, an electrician friend who I grew up with in Basra. He is in hospital and one of his legs has bad shrapnel wounds, he is terrified of losing it.

We heard that Um Hassina, our neighbour's sister, was injured when a rocket hit her home.

A neighbour brought round wheat and some vegetables and there is talk of food distribution, as the shops reopen. But nobody knows if it is just a brief lull in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attempt to tame the Mehdi Army of Mr Sadr. The imams in the mosques blamed the government for starting the fight within the Shia community.

The first we knew about fighting was when we were woken by explosions to the north of my brother's house about 4.30am last Tuesday.

I had been supposed to return to Nassariyah and I set off about 11am. But there were so many police and army roadblocks that I turned back. At first, my three young nephews in the house were excited by the noise from the fighting but then they all became scared, and my niece Haniya burst into tears at the explosions.

By the next day, with fighting raging, Dr Haidar who works at the general hospital, said they could not take any more patients. He said 11 people had died after being brought to the hospital and they were mainly civilians. He also said they were running out of medicine. By yesterday, the death toll in the city had risen to more than 210, and people went out to bury their dead.

There was also a lot of mortar and rocket fire. One police station near us was hit by two rockets and some police were injured. We saw armoured cars and tanks on the street. I managed to call my wife in Nassariyah on my satellite telephone to say I was all right but she was very, very nervous and said she could not sleep at night.

Then they brought in a curfew from about 10pm on Thursday but no one went out much and most of the shops were shut. We started to worry about shortages of food, but we had bread and meat and vegetable stew, and some fruit.

We kept as much as possible for the children, while adults survived on bread and tomato paste. But the main worry was the disappearance of clean water, and we had to boil tap water, even though it came out of the tap quite dirty.

The bombing raids by American or British planes began last Friday. We heard three deafening explosions, and I could see big clouds of smoke in the air.

The curfew was lifted for a few hours. I went out, but there was a lot of firing and I could not go very far. I saw a lot of damage, many houses which had been hit. I saw one row of cars with every single one burned out. There was blood and broken glass on the streets.

There were masked men with guns on the street. One of the Shia militiamen put his AK against my chest and shouted "go home, just go home". I did not argue.

The next day, there were more air raids. There were a lot of helicopters, and there were reports about foreign troops in the city, but the firing seemed to be less intense. I spoke to my wife again. She said my children were crying, and then she started crying herself.

On Sunday, we were told they had flown food in, and the curfew was lifted so people could collect provisions. But two mortar rounds landed a few streets away, setting fire to some cars.

Now, the masked men have vanished from the streets. Today, I will try to return to Nassariyah again.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions