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Basra: Things Fall Apart

In a bid to curb relentless sectarian violence in the once peaceful province of Basra, the prime minister declared a month-long state of emergency on May 31, vowing to disarm militias that have taken control there.

"We shall use an iron fist against the leaders of the gangs and those who threaten security," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Wednesday during a visit to the restive province, referring to sectarian militias as well as rival tribal groups. "We'll request that all security departments draw up quick and effective plans to achieve security." Al-Maliki was addressing some 700 tribal sheikhs, religious leaders, army officers and residents.

The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), a Sunni clerical body, praised the announcement as "a step forward" towards restoring local security. "Some 1,200 Sunni Muslim families have been forced to leave Basra as a result of threats by militant groups," said Sheikh Abdul-Razaq al-Dosari, a senior AMS cleric. "About 25 Sunnis were killed due to this continuing violence."

In the months following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, some 8,000 British soldiers enjoyed relative tranquillity in the south, in contrast to other parts of the country. But since then, violence has escalated in Iraq's second largest -- and Shiite-dominated -- city of Basra, with the emergence of bitter political and religious rivalries. "Violence has claimed 301 lives since the beginning of this year," said Capt. Mushtaq Khadhim of the municipal police. "This has included Sunnis, Shi'ites and policemen." In the latest violent episode on Saturday, a suicide bomber blew his car up in an outdoor market, killing 16 civilians and injuring 52 others as they were shopping, said Khadhim.

According to Basra Governor Mohamed al-Waili, the army and police have already introduced a number of security measures. "As a part of the crackdown on rampant violence, army and police have fanned out and set up roadblocks and checkpoints in the city's streets," al-Waili said. He added that a special security committee had been established to coordinate the initiative, including three members of the provincial council and police and army officials.

Locals, meanwhile, greeted the PM's announcement with cautious optimism. "The prime minister's decision made us feel safe," said Kadhim Ismail Ali, a 45-year old employee of the municipal agricultural department. "But these feelings of safety will increase if they seriously apply the new measures."

© IRIN   [Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

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Albion Monitor   June 5, 2006   (

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