Media: The Associated Press
Date: 13 October 2006
BASRA, Iraq_Shiites in this southern port city largely say they want British
troops to leave, though the region is still bloodied by a persistent grind
of killings, including Sunni insurgent bombings and Shiite-on-Shiite
slayings amid a competition for political control.
Several prominent Basra leaders on Friday agreed wholeheartedly with an
assessment by Britain's army chief that that the British presence only
worsens the violence and that the soldiers should withdraw soon.
Gen. Richard Dannatt backpedaled Friday, saying he meant troops should leave
within years, but the comments in an interview published a day earlier
caused a political storm in Britain.
In Basra, Shiites insist the British presence only gives a target for
attackers seeking to end "occupation" _ and some said the troops were doing
nothing to rein in party-backed Shiite militias that have risen to
It's a change in attitude from early in the Iraqi conflict, when Shiites
across the country welcomed U.S.-led coalition troops that toppled Saddam
Hussein, who had persecuted the Shiite majority. British troops in Basra
were even praised for taking a gentler approach to policing the region than
American troops further north, who were seen as heavy-handed.
But with the violence wearing on, anti-U.S. sentiment has been growing among
Shiites across Iraq, and with it the feeling that international troops
should go. The militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which deeply
opposes the U.S.-British presence, has been growing in power.
The central government in Baghdad underlined on Friday that it wants U.S.
and British troops to remain, saying they are needed to contain the violence
and train Iraqi forces.
"The presence of these forces is necessary so that they can participate in
establishing stability in Iraq," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The predominantly Shiite south has long been less violent than Baghdad and
the Sunni regions of central and western Iraq, where the anti-U.S.
insurgency has been based.
But there has still been steady bloodshed, and it has increased this year
with the swelling of sectarian killings across the country. Basra province _
home to about 3 million people, where most of the 7,000 British troops are
based _ sees a constant daily toll of bombings, shootings or kidnappings.
They come in part from Sunni insurgents attacks British troops and Iraqi
civilians with bombings, mortars and rocket fire. But increasingly the area
has seen killings between Shiites as party-backed militias vie for
On Thursday, a prominent Sadr cleric, Sheik Radhi al-Assadi, was gunned down
near his home. His slaying came days after another cleric _ also named Radhi
al-Assadi, a distant relative, but connected to the rival Badr Brigade
militia _ was killed by gunmen.
Shiite militias also intimidate residents, enforcing strict Islamic laws in
some districts, such as banning haircuts seen as Western, forcing women to
wear the veil and closing video and music shops.
"To tell the truth, (the British) have caused the chaos and the security
decline in southern Iraq, especially Basra, by their leniency with the
militias and their parties," said Ghali Nijm, head of the Shiite Wifaq party
"The British presence is no longer desired, as is that of the Americans and
others, even though the British are kinder than the Americans," said Aqil
Talib, a member of the Basra provincial council from the Shiite Fadila
The British military has three bases in Basra itself and a main headquarters
just outside the city, and they come under frequent mortar or rocket fire,
much like American bases further north.
In early October, British and Iraqi forces began a
neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweep of Basra _ codenamed Operation Sindbad _
similar to one launched in August by U.S. troops in Baghdad. The sweep has
gone through three districts _ including two with a heavy militia presence _
clearing out weapons, arresting about 100 people and launching
reconstruction projects. British troops also help train Iraqi troops.
In the south, where Shiites formed the vast majority of the population, the
desire to see foreign troops is fueled in part by Shiite insistence that
they can run their own affairs. Some feel the British presence only keeps
them from developing.
"The British forces entered Iraq and liberated it from the Saddam regime,"
said one Basra resident, Essam Mohammed, "Since they have fully accomplished
their mission, they should now leave Iraq and not stay because they are
creating some obstacles and problems for the Iraqi people who are already
suffering from a lot of problems and cannot take any more."