Sunday, July 22, 2007

Perspective: Welcome to Basra

Above: A British soldier takes cover from a militia mortar attack on a base in Basra last October. The dull thud of firing is heard before the whistle of the bomb in flight, then the wait for the explosion begins.

I was wandering over to the condiment table in the mess hall in search of a sachet of tomato ketchup when the siren sounded: a long, low wail. In a split second my fellow diners – camouflaged soldiers and civvy-clad contractors – had flung themselves to the floor or crawled under the nearest table, their arms held protectively over their heads.

A day earlier I had been talking to two medics as they relaxed under a camouflage net waiting for their next emergency call. As the siren came, they threw themselves on the ground with military precision while I clumsily fell off my chair and on to a pile of cigarette ash.

The scenes can appear a little comic. But there is nothing funny about them for the soldiers who live day in, day out with rockets and mortar bombs – so-called indirect fire attacks – pounding the British airbase in Basra up to ten times a day.

Read the rest at the Times of London