'The Masked Men Have Vanished, but We're Still Trapped'

Article excerpt

As a fragile ceasefire takes hold in Basra, Hakim Ali Ibrahim recalls his bloody week

The people of Basra ventured outside for the first time in a week yesterday as the ceasefire declared by the Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr began to take hold.

We heard about the truce on the radio, and there was much less fighting yesterday. At last I began to hope that I can return to my home in Nassariyah from my brother's house in Basra, where I have been trapped since last Tuesday.

One of my nephews, Safa, had begun vomiting a lot, but there was no point in trying to take him to the hospital, all the doctors were very busy. Yesterday Jalil, my brother, took 11-year-old Safa to a doctor who lives about two miles away. I went to see the family of Khalid Hussein, an electrician friend who I grew up with in Basra. He is in hospital and one of his legs has bad shrapnel wounds, he is terrified of losing it.

We heard that Um Hassina, our neighbour's sister, was injured when a rocket hit her home.

A neighbour brought round wheat and some vegetables and there is talk of food distribution, as the shops reopen. But nobody knows if it is just a brief lull in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attempt to tame the Mehdi Army of Mr Sadr. The imams in the mosques blamed the government for starting the fight within the Shia community.

The first we knew about fighting was when we were woken by explosions to the north of my brother's house about 4.30am last Tuesday.

I had been supposed to return to Nassariyah and I set off about 11am. But there were so many police and army roadblocks that I turned back. At first, my three young nephews in the house were excited by the noise from the fighting but then they all became scared, and my niece Haniya burst into tears at the explosions.

By the next day, with fighting raging, Dr Haidar who works at the general hospital, said they could not take any more patients. He said 11 people had died after being brought to the hospital and they were mainly civilians. He also said they were running out of medicine. By yesterday, the death toll in the city had risen to more than 210, and people went out to bury their dead. …