On the anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Mark Leftly visited UK firms working in the south of the country. He discovered that everyday life for contractors involves death threats, spiralling security costs, kidnapping, shortages of power and water – and a great deal of raw sewage
The bright white lights of the RAF's Hercules turn dark blue. A minute later, they go out altogether, throwing the 60 or so passengers into total darkness 24,000 ft above Iraq. Lights beaming out of rows of small oval windows marks the Hercules as a target to those unhappy with the occupation.

The aircraft descends steeply into Basra, the UK-run capital of southern Iraq. It lands hard, bouncing several passengers off their seats. One by one the lights come back on; the aircraft comes to a stop at Basra International airport. This plane is carrying a group of officials from the Department for International Development on a visit to Basra one year after Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched.

The DfID is spending £259m on humanitarian and reconstruction projects. Building was invited to the group in order to discover what life is like for those struggling to rebuild the country.

As we will reveal over the next five pages, the harsh reality of life in southern Iraq is that this is anything but easy money. Armed guards, Kalashnikov rifles, armoured cars, threats, bombs, curfews and kidnappings are all part of everyday existence for the British and Iraqi construction workers operating in this residual war …

Basra stories