Posted by: Lister | October 1, 2007

Is Basra quieter after troop pullout?

The Independent says: Surge in Basra killings may force British back to city (Sept 26th).

A surge in violence in Basra has raised the prospect of British troops having to go back into the city if the security situation deteriorates further. Yesterday, a suicide bomber killed three people and injured 20 others in the city in the latest sign of violence resurfacing in the Shia south after a comparatively quiet period.

Two senior aides of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual head of the Shia, were killed in the region last week in a series of targeted assassinations that had also seen the deaths of two provincial governors and a police chief in recent months.

General Jalil Khalaf, of Basra police, said after yesterday’s blast: “The target was police headquarters and more people could have died. We do not know yet who is responsible”.

[…] The Iraqi commander who has taken over from the British in Basra, General Mohan al-Furayji, had brokered a peace deal between the various Shia factions but, according to sources in the militia, there is rising tension between the groups. The American military in Baghdad, meanwhile, has repeatedly claimed that Iranians are shipping large quantities of weapons into the south. The killing of the two Sistani aides raised the number of Grand Ayatollah’s advisers killed to five in three months. Amjad al-Janabi was shot dead as he left a mosque in Basra and Ahmad al-Baraqawi was shot as he drove home in Diwaniya. A Shia politician in Basra said: “I think we know who is ordering these killings. It is a very powerful and well known man, but we are too afraid to say the name in public.”

While, according to Reuters, Iraqis say Basra is quieter after the British troop pullout:

Residents of Iraq’s southern city of Basra have begun strolling riverfront streets again after four years of fear, their city much quieter since British troops withdrew from the grand Saddam Hussein-era Basra Palace.

Political assassinations and sectarian violence continue, some city officials say, but on a much smaller scale than at any time since British troops moved into the city after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Mortar rounds, rockets and small arms fire crashed almost daily into the palace, making life hazardous for British and Iraqis alike in Iraq’s second-largest city. To many Basrans the withdrawal of the British a month ago removed a proven target.

“The situation these days is better. We were living in hell … the area is calm since their withdrawal,” said housewife Khairiya Salman, who lives near the palace.

Civil servant Wisam Abdul Sada agreed. “We do not hear the sounds of explosions which were shaking our houses and terrifying our women and children,” he told Reuters.

[…] While the British were frequent targets — 41 soldiers were killed this year, the most since 2003 — Basra has also been the centre of a turf war between rival Shi’ite groups.

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