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I could have died for a good picture

PUBLISHED: 13:25 10 April 2003 | UPDATED: 13:43 03 March 2010

From photographer Alan Evans of the Express & Star, Wolverhampton, in Basra:


"STOP taking pictures or they will kill you!" The interpreter's voice was loud and urgent as he frantically barged past soldiers to shout at me above the noise of the crowd.

From photographer Alan Evans of the Express & Star, Wolverhampton, in Basra

"STOP taking pictures or they will kill you!" The interpreter's voice was loud and urgent as he frantically barged past soldiers to shout at me above the noise of the crowd.

He meant what he said - and so did the angry mob of 50 locals gathering menacingly around our vehicle.

They shouted in Arabic and called for me to climb down from the truck and join them, invitingly drawing their fingers across their throats.

The scene was a sand-blasted vision of hell, with windowless, derelict houses lining a wide, treeless street to a crossroads where a British aid distribution point had been hurriedly set up when we arrived half an hour earlier.

The heat was almost unbearable, over 90 degrees by mid-morning, and the wind fanned the heat in gusts and swirled blinding clouds of dust - but could not rid the town of its lingering stench of sewage.

We had already been forced to retreat from the noisy chaos of the main crowd, where 300 desperately poor people jostled for food amid sinister, violent threats and attempts to grab camera equipment.

Pens, notepads and drinking water had been snatched as baying crowds swarmed around us within seconds of pulling up in Zabiyr, a suburb of Basra.

Others ranted wildly in Arabic and covered their faces. "No! Mister! Water!'' they shouted incessantly.

Now I was standing on the back of an army four-tonne truck pressed against a British Army Gurkha machine-gunner who was covering the crowd. Moustachioed men menacingly banged the side of the vehicle and were pushed back by more Gurkhas.

Around a dozen angry youths tried to clamber onto the side of the truck, shouting abuse, but were pulled down.

The interpreter, Naser Al Faraj, shouted again: "You are humiliating them and they definitely do not want anyone taking pictures of their women. You must stop it - now!''

Express & Star colleague Keith Harrison and I quickly decided on a charm offensive, taking off our helmets, smiling widely and waving at the crowd.

Shaking hands with some of the elder men, we convinced them we would not take any more pictures. The tension slowly eased and the stand-off dissolved as more water tankers were brought around to fill underground tanks.

The interpreter breathed a sigh of relief, and raised eyebrows above his Ray-Ban rims with a look that said: "That was close!''

2nd Lt Mark Irons of the Royal Logistic Corps said: "Many of them are Bedouins from the desert who have come into town today out of desperation, and they feel humiliated at hand-outs. They don't want it made any worse by having their pictures taken.

"Some also associate pictures with the former regime, where people would sometimes disappear after having their pictures taken in public by secret police.''


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