Kim Sengupta: Dark days when military and militias were at war

Share
Related Topics

Iraq in 2004 was a dark and forbidding place. A year after "liberation" by American and British forces the rules of civic society had all but disappeared. We were living on the jagged edge of anarchy.

Baghdad echoed with suicide bombings and firefights, low-flying helicopters and sirens. The talk was of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the coming of al-Qa'ida and Shia death squads. Dead bodies were piling up, and those who could flee the country did so.

In the British-run south, we used to think, things were a lot calmer. Journalists sitting at the Hamra Hotel, well outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, would joke about going down to Basra for a bit of peace, a spot of R&R.

It proved to be a false impression. The scale of violence in the south may have been much less than in the Iraqi capital, but the security situation was unravelling fast. Shia militias of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army and the Badr Brigade had taken over neighbourhoods and infiltrated the police force, Sunnis and Christians were being killed and driven out. The Iranians were busy smuggling in explosives and equipment for "shaped charge" bombs which would take a devastating toll. The British complacency that they were managing Iraq far better than the Americans would soon shatter.

For the UK forces it was a shock to the system. The Shia population of the south had, on the whole, welcomed deliverance from Saddam, but there was a growing and aggressive mood against occupation with attacks becoming increasingly common.

The Battle of Danny Boy took place against this background of growing confrontation between the militias and the UK military who had found itself pitched from supposed peacekeeping to warfighting. The encounter was fierce and included everything from bayonet charges to tank rounds. It also took place near Majr al-Kabir, where six months previously six British soldiers had been murdered by a mob as they attempted to surrender having run out of ammunition.

None of this excuses the abuse – if indeed there was any abuse – following Danny Boy. Questions were raised, around that time, about the effectiveness of a number of official inquiries at the time. I recall one in particular – into the abuse of detainees at a supply depot on the Basra outskirts, Camp Breadbasket. The soldiers carrying out the mistreatment had taken "trophy" photographs of their victims. The Royal Military Police, however, failed to find any of these victims despite a year-long inquiry. An Iraqi colleague, Nour al-Khal, and I found them within half a day, living in the nearest urban settlement to the camp.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Currently looking for teachers ...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Theresa May doesn’t get it - banning ideas we don’t like is to suggest that we are frightened of them

Mike Harris
David Cameron gives his keynote speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham  

Conservative Party Conference: Here's what David Cameron said in his speech…and what he meant

John Rentoul
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?