Basra's bitter memories of the British occupation

Basra's bitter memories of the British occupation
2 min read
12 April, 2015
Feature: Residents of Basra describe the destruction to their province caused by the British occupation.
British forces took the city of Basra on 6 April 2003 [AFP]
In al-Ashar Street near the Shatt al-Arab river, Jamil Suleiman recalls better times.

"British and US tanks passed right by here. Everything was different before. Everything was beautiful to look at," he said.

Today, nothing remains of those events except painful memories. Suleiman tells al-Araby al-Jadeed: "Life itself has been transformed and people's morals changed after the vile occupation."

     The British-US occupation divided us and changed our moral values.
- Jamil Suleiman, local resident
Suleiman took us to a coffeehouse near Shatt al-Arab. As he sat smoking a waterpipe he said: "We used to sit in this coffeehouse as friends, as family, and as Iraqis. We were not divided by religion, sect, or ethnicity. Everyone was friendly and cordial, talking and checking on each other. Helping those in need. The British-US occupation divided us and changed our moral values. It planted ugly sectarianism in our hearts."

Basra became one of the most prosperous and beautiful provinces in Iraq due to a  major reconstruction programme after the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988). However, today its parks are wastelands filled with rubble, its streets are neglected, and government services are poor.

Sitting on the pavement in Shuaiba in downtown Basra, Ramzi Abbasis eyes gaze into the sky as if he is meditating. When we asked him why he looked sad he replied: "We did not expect life in our province that was flourishing since it was rebuilt in the 1990s, to change like this. At the time Basra was one of the most beautiful provinces in Iraq."

Pointing at a place in front of him Abbas says: "Look at that park. It used to be full of flowers and trees. Kids would play there and young people would go for walks. Today it is full of rubbish."

Younis al-Bzouni, 79, explained that even though they were not happy under former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's rule, things are much worse now, which he blames on the British. "Our province used to be a trading province. There were no militias and we enjoyed stability and law and order. A blessing we did not appreciate until it was gone."

Umm Ahmad says the British burned everything beautiful during their occupation of Basra. Her 50-year-old son Ahmad was killed defending the city from their advance. "Our children died for their country. We want to keep the rest of our children alive and live in a dignified, humane and unified country."

British forces entered took the city of Basra from Iraqi forces on 6 April 2003, after a two-week siege.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.