Inside Basra

Inside Basra
: A British reporter — exhibiting the kind of stupid bravery reporters are born with — ventures into Basra for the Telegraph.

The younger men look sullen and angry. Few speak English but one, his face streaked with dust and dirt, holds up a fist, brandishing it above his head. An older man speaks angrily to him, pulling his hand down. The young man’s eyes smoulder with hatred. “Enemy,” is all he can say in English.

Earlier last week, British special forces are said to have deployed in Basra. “It’s a living hell in there,” I am told by one military official who is believed to have operated alongside them.

“People are too afraid to come out of their homes. They don’t know who is friend, who is foe. Water and food is scarce, there is no electricity. No one is starving yet, but supplies are running very, very low.”…

We find two teenage boys who have not seen their father, a soldier, for two nights, since his unit moved to the south of the city at dawn on Thursday. Their mother died in November and now they are fending for themselves in the basement of what was once a family home….

Inside one doorway, a family sits huddled around a small fire. Short planks are burning, wood that they have clearly pulled from their window frames. Inside the house, on the wall behind them, hangs the only ornament – a framed photograph of Saddam Hussein, in paternal pose.

No one speaks. Their gaze is neither angry nor welcoming; it is instead a long, lingering look, perhaps of resignation. Bundles of clothes lie in the corners and a stack of tomatoes and eggs nestles in a recess that may once have been a fireplace. They slam the door shut….

[At a British checkpoint outside the city…] As he checks vehicles, L/Cpl Ryan Robinson reaches inside one to calm a sobbing mother. “We need to help these people, to reassure them,” he says, clearly moved by their plight. “They are scared of everyone – fear is their norm now.”