Sheffield painters and decorators describe bizarre job working in Saddam Hussein's former Basra home
He may hear gunfire every night, but Richard Beasley reckons he is "safe enough". All the same, he seldom leaves his workplace, and when he does it is in a convoy topped and tailed by heavily armed soldiers. And he sleeps in a tent surrounded by the palm trees, lakes and walls of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

Beasley is a foreman for Image Decorations, a Sheffield-based painter and decorating contractor that has a contract with the Ministry of Defence's NAAFI catering arm. He and his team are tackling a number of jobs in the country, and the one they are working on at present is an army cafe in a former palace of Saddam Hussein in Basra, the British-run city in the south of the country.

The job in Basra involves painting an army cafe that has been built in the grounds of the old palace for the Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI). It is also working for all three armed services in the region to build or refurbish other bars and cafes. Beasley is happy with life in the palace, but says the city outside is unrelentingly grim: "Basra is destroyed and it stinks."

Nicholas Wain, a director at Image Decorations, said it had had no difficulty finding staff to work in Iraq. He said: "We asked for volunteers and there were twice as many as needed. It is something to tell your grandchildren." He added that workers were paid "well over the odds".

We had twice as many volunteers as needed. It’s something to tell your grandchildren

Nicholas Wain, director, Image Decorations