Since April 2003, the people of Basra have consistently been bemused by reports that they and their city enjoy a state of calm and stability under the command of the British forces, in contrast to the north of Iraq and the so-called Sunni triangle. As someone born and bred in Basra, I hope that the recent images of British troops beating young Basra boys to within an inch of their lives will allow such claims to be laid to rest and show a fraction of the reality that has made life throughout Iraq a living hell.
When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke a couple of years ago, I recall a commentator on the BBC World Service smugly saying that the Americans were heavy-handed and undisciplined when it came to dealing with civilians, while the British were far more restrained, touring Basra in their berets as peacekeepers rather than occupiers. My estimation of the BBC World Service dipped when the other side of the picture was not presented.
The truth is that ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime, abuses and atrocities committed against Iraqi civilians have been a regular, at times daily, occurrence throughout the country, including in Basra. These have been committed by American, British, and Iraqi official forces. Hearing the British prime minister describe this latest incident as an isolated case fills me and fellow Iraqis with anger.
It adds insult to very serious injury when we are told that this humiliation, torture, and violence is the work of a few "bad apples." From previous experience, the most we can look forward to is a whitewash inquiry and possibly a young, low-ranking soldier being made a scapegoat.
As a strong believer in the need for Iraqis to use the political process to bring about change, it is not difficult to see how innocent youngsters are radicalized and why they turn to widely available arms. Those who were beaten mercilessly while being mocked by the film-maker for their pain and humiliation will never listen to me or my colleagues when we try to win them over to peaceful ways of venting their anger and frustration. Their families, loved ones, friends, and even those who see the horrific images on TV will be ever more convinced that such degradation can only be met with fire and force.
The allegation that insurgents have flooded into Iraq from neighboring Syria and Iran may hold some truth, but the flooding I fear is the daily recruitment of insurgents by the brutal, inhumane and tyrannical treatment that young Iraqis experience every day at the hands of occupation forces, as well as the Iraqi government forces they support.
Although I and numerous members of my family suffered personally, physically and otherwise at the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime, and dreamed for many years of the day he would be gone, I always opposed the invasion and occupation of our country. Subsequent events have made me even more convinced of the fallacy and immorality of the military campaign that Britain and the US have pursued in Iraq. The biggest indictment of the war and occupation is surely that more and more Iraqis are speaking publicly of how life was far better when Saddam was in power - an achievement most Iraqis never imagined possible.
Tony Blair's suggestion that British forces are in Iraq to educate Iraqis in democracy has only added salt to our bleeding wounds. This rhetoric harks back to imperial times when Britain was a colonial power and treated my forefathers, as well as many other peoples in the world, as backward savages. It hurts me that despite Mr Blair's first-class education, he seems to have learned so little. Until recently, Britain was admired and respected by Iraqis. The few who had the chance to visit or study in the UK were looked upon with envy. The past three years have seen to it that that respect has been obliterated.
Iraqis have suffered immensely over recent years, first from the west's support for a despotic dictatorship, then from 13 years of sanctions that ravaged the country, and finally from a war and occupation that reduced a once-affluent country and its highly-educated people to rubble and dust.
It saddens me that Britain has had a significant hand in every episode that has heaped misery on Iraqis. At a time when a brief apology and admission of fault by the prime minister would have gone a long way towards reconciliation between our peoples, he has chosen to widen the gap still further. I suggest that next time Britain hears of a fallen British soldier in Iraq, Mr Blair should be asked about his role in that tragedy.
I share with the majority of Iraqis the belief that the only way forward is the immediate departure of American and British troops from our country. The suggestion that this would make matters worse is at best laughable and at worst a scurrilous lie. Matters cannot get any worse, and they only became this bad because of the decision by American and British leaders to wage war against a people who were already suffering.
I have no doubt that I will see my country truly free and liberated from tyranny and occupation. I pray that this happens without the further spilling of blood - Iraqi, American, or British.
Dr. Jasem al-Aqrab is head of the Organization for the Iraqi Islamic Party in Basra. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2006 Guardian Newspapers Limited