Saturday, November 15, 2008

Basra's streets once ran with blood. Now they bustle with shoppers

News of the World Blog

AT the al-Ameray supermarket on Basra’s main market street, the blip, blip of a checkout scanner rings out as young Iraqis snap up nappies, magazines, ready meals and the latest perfumes.

Five months ago this street was shuttered and empty, the silence broken only by the whoosh of rocket-propelled grenades and the clatter of an AK47 machine gun. But today business is booming.

Next door a queue forms outside a butcher’s and nearby women, their hair uncovered, haggle over fresh pomegranates, apples and oranges on a pristine market stall. Once, these women faced being beaten to death for daring to go out unveiled—vicious punishment meted out by gangs of hard-line JAM militia who roamed the streets trying to impose extremist Sharia law.
Now the mobs have gone and women are returning to work and university for the first time in five years. Five tough years that cost the lives of 176 brave British soldiers.

Last week News of the World journalists became the first British pressmen to wander free through the streets where our troops have faced a fusillade of rocket and bomb attacks.
A military escort is still mandatory to leave the British Army base on Basra’s outskirts. But inside the city soldiers are now greeted with smiles and waves instead of bullets and explosions.
When the current force arrived in May they were told they would have to fight their way in and out of the city on every patrol.

Sgt Ian Walker from the 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, is on his third tour of Iraq. Scanning the crowded street, he said: “Last time I was here we were under constant attack.
Things were very hostile. Now the situation is very quiet and the Iraqis seem happy to see us.”

The reason for the dramatic change lies with the armoured Humvees of the Iraqi Army’s 14th Division parked on every street corner. There are now 30,000 well-trained and disciplined Iraqi soldiers in Basra.

Read the full blog on the New of The World website

No comments: