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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Reflections on a week in Basra
By John Humphrys
BBC News, Basra

John Humphrys, BBC Radio 4's Today presenter, reflects on a week in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

British soldiers in Iraq
Security in Basra has become tighter

To be honest, I didn't really want to come to Iraq to present Today - there are many people far better qualified than I am to talk about this complex country and the mess it's in, but you learn a lot very quickly.

The first time a rocket lands within a few yards of you in the heart of the British compound is pretty instructive. There's someone out there who wants to kill you for no better reason than you're British.

Basra may be a picnic compared with the hell of Baghdad, but even so the violence overwhelms everything.

When you can't drive into the centre of the city; when even the helicopter which brings you into the Foreign Office compound can fly only at night; when the shortest trip outside the British base needs a military escort of 18 men and a column of armoured vehicles.

But I'm leaving shortly. The soldiers who have to spend six months at a time here have my sympathy.

Living in fear

But how much worse to be an Iraqi citizen who sees his country in such a state.

There are plenty of decent Iraqis working hard to rebuild their country
John Humphrys

The middle class live in fear. Not just fear of the rockets, but of the very men supposed to protect them.

A surgeon told me police broke into his house, attacked him and his wife and stole their valuables - they were lucky they weren't murdered.

The British forces don't trust the police either. But the working class have it worse - most of them can't even get a job.

John Humphrys in Basra
John Humphrys said the violence was "overwhelming"

Did I sense any hope? Up to a point.

The British are doing their best. There are plenty of decent Iraqis working hard to rebuild their country. The oil is being pumped out of Iraq's fabulously rich fields.

But so much of the oil revenue is being stolen and the corruption is eye-watering. And if the death squads continue unchecked, God knows what will happen.

I'd love to say that I shall leave Iraq more optimistic for its future than when I arrived, but I'm afraid it wouldn't be true.




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