the southern Iraqi city of Basra (1.3 million) is under British military
occupation rather than American, it is little covered in the US press
(does anybody else think this is odd?) There have been several British
and Arab reports about the situation there recently. They indicate
that although security has improved, property values are up, and people
are again holding weddings and smiling, many serious problems remain.
The rise of radical Shiite vigilanteism is among the grave new challenges
to the development of Iraqi democracy.
reports (via ash-Sharq al-Awsat 12/31) that 400 shops owned
by Christians, whom Saddam had permitted to sell liquor, have been
forced to close since April, as the Shiites have come to power politically
(see below). Stores have been firebombed, and some Christian shopkeepers
have been shot, it is said by radical Shiite groups with names like
"The Revenge of God, Hizbullah, and the Organization of Islamic
Rules." Their members appoint themselves vigilantes, patrolling
the streets armed in search of criminals and drug dealers, and executing
them on the spot. These Shiite militias have supporters on the local
councils Christians complain that they have been forced out of the
liquor market, but that in many cases Muslim merchants have stepped
into the breach, making inroads into what had been a Christian monopoly.
Farrell reports in the London Times (12/30) of Basra: "Many
of the theatres and music halls where [musicians] used to play have
been shut, or converted for use by the many new Islamic parties that
claim to represent Iraq's Shia Muslims, the overwhelming majority
in Basra. While ice-cream and electronics stores thrive, the fundamentalists
have shut down all alcohol shops, aided by rocket-propelled grenades
and the summary killing of liquorsellers. Video and CD stores have
been closed or had their wares heavily censored. In one CD shop in
central Basra, posters of Britney Spears have been taken down. In
their place are speeches of ayatollahs, to appease the self-appointed
moral guardians." He says that Shiite Islamist gangs have beaten
up musicians returning from weddings, e.g.
London daily ash-Sharq al-Awsat has run a three-part series
on Basra the past few days, by journalist Ahmad Jawdah. In his piece
of Dec. 29, he speaks of the problems of drug smuggling and high inflation
Salih of Basra's Police Directorate, told Jawdah that open borders
with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran allowed drug smuggling. "
Traffickers smuggle marijuana from Iran where one kilogram of hashish
is worth 600 dollars and then they seek to smuggle and sell it for
around 1,700 dollars." He said that in some cases Iraq was just
a transit route for trans-border smuggling, a new phenomenon.
MacIntosh, an aide to the British commander in southern Iraq, told
Jawdah that oil smuggling is a particular problem, with about 3,000
tons smuggled out each week to Kuwait and the UAE, causing a "structural
imbalance" in the Iraqi economy. Reproached for leaving the borders
so open as to allow this smuggling, she replied with some heat, "We
have 10,000 soldiers in a 150,000-square-mile area that consists of
five governorates home to nearly five million people...in addition
to 1,000-kilometre border with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. We want
to achieve security and help the Iraqis to rebuild the state and establish
services and security for the people of the south. It is such a vast
area of land and it is difficult to control this kind of crime..."
says that Basra Deputy Governor Abdul Hafiz al-Ani introduced himself
as a businessman, and a political independent. He said he was a representative
of a local cleric Sayyid Ali al-Safi al-Musawi, who in turn represented
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Basra. [The deputy governor of Basra
is indirectly a representative of Sistani? Maybe the place is already
hoped for a constitution and an elected government, but said, "We
do not want any more foreign forces in our country. We hope the British
forces keep their promises and withdraw next June." He said personal
freedoms were "permissible" but not if they were abused
and became an obstacle to consumption. He admitted that liquor stores
had been firebombed, and said, "We would never allow the sale
or consumption of alcohol in Basra."
He said they would not be allowed to participate in public life because
they were not trusted. He said they were criminals who should be held
accountable for their crimes, as the Koran said. He did allow that
those forced to join the party would be treated differently.
27, Jawdah had reported a conversation with a policeman in Basra who
was from the smaller town of Samawah, also in the Shiite south. He
in Basra is not less than 60 per cent and 40 per cent of the people
are living under the poverty line. I am from the city of Al-Samawah
where conditions are worse and life more difficult. The unemployment
rate in Al-Samawah is 70 per cent among men and 95 per cent among
women and at least 35 per cent of its population are living under
the poverty line."
allocation of jobs in Al-Samawah is done on a partisan, tribal and
sectarian basis. The council under the total control of Al-Da'wah
Party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and
the "Tha'r Allah" (God's revenge) group of the Badr forces.
The Sunnis who represent around 10 per cent of Al-Samawah's population
are the ones treated most unfairly. They are subjected to discrimination
and this discrimination has even reached the point where one of the
Shi'i parties seized a Sunni mosque in Al-Samawah, the Imam Ali Bin-Abu-Talib
Mosque, two months ago."