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

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition