Demonstration In Basra Signals Growing Tensions Between Iraqi Shiites




 
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Boots
 
April 18th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Demonstration In Basra Signals Growing Tensions Between Iraqi Shiites


New York Times
April 18, 2007
By Alissa J. Rubin
BAGHDAD, April 17 — In the latest sign of worsening tensions among Shiite factions, several hundred people demonstrated Tuesday to force the governor of Basra to step down, a move that could throw that already unsettled southern city into turmoil.
The protesters gathered in 13 tents at the edge of the Ashar River in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, for the start of a three-day demonstration in front of the governor’s office. They were drawn from several groups, but among them were people who appeared to have links to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
Mr. Sadr’s movement has been increasingly at odds with the government, even though his party is a member of the Shiite coalition that helped put Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in power. On Monday, six ministers allied to Mr. Sadr announced that they were leaving the government.
The governor, Muhammad al-Waeli, is from Fadhila, a Shiite party that also recently withdrew from the Shiite coalition in Parliament, though his party is at odds with Mr. Sadr’s faction.
Government officials in Baghdad said that the governor was under pressure to resign but that there was no sign yet that he would give up power. His resignation could dangerously heighten competition for power among the Shiite political parties in Basra — all of which are struggling to control the oil-rich area that is close to the Persian Gulf.
In Basra, Diwaniya and Kut, all areas in the south, there have been fights between Mr. Sadr’s organization and government forces, even though each is dominated by Shiites.
The protesters on Tuesday complained primarily about the lack services in the city, including electricity, potable water and jobs. Several protesters described Mr. Waeli as a corrupt politician who gave jobs only to people from his own party.
“We want to live like human beings, and our city lacks a lot of services,” said one of the protesters, Assad Nusaef, who was wearing the black clothes favored by Sadr loyalists. “We don’t have pure water, and we have to buy water from official factories.”
“We are an oil state, but we live in poverty and the governor and his party is behind the joblessness,” he added. “The Fadhila loyalists fill the jobs at the Southern Oil Company and they don’t allow any one else to be employed by this company.” The Southern Oil Company is the state-owned concern in southern Iraq.
Supporters of Fadhila denied the charges and said they were a target of animosity because they had withdrawn from the Shiite coalition government.
“I know there have been mistakes, but we oppose the use of any violence against us,” said Wael Samir, a Fadhila Party member. “This protest is against the Fadhila Party, not the governor, because Fadhila withdrew from the Shiite group.”
In Diwaniya, another southern province, government forces and American troops were in the last stages of a multiday operation against gunmen allied with Mr. Sadr. The American soldiers distributed leaflets in the city on Tuesday, urging residents to turn over seven men “wanted for killing innocent people.”
American forces continued to search all vehicles entering the city, according to the local police. About 135 people have been detained in the operation, according to Iraqi security forces.
Violence in Baghdad was modest on Tuesday, with several people wounded by mortar shells and gunshots. However, 25 bodies were found, according to an Interior Ministry official — a higher tally than in recent weeks. If the trend persists, it could signal a return of the death squad activities that had slackened since United States and Iraqi forces began a new security plan in Baghdad on Feb. 14.
In Mosul, the police killed a suicide truck bomber as he approached the gate of an Iraqi Army base, said Brig. Saeed al-Jibouri. The truck exploded, either as a result of the shots or because the bomber detonated it before he died, killing a civilian and wounding four others. However, the damage would have been much worse had the driver reached his target.
In Ramadi, in Anbar Province, security forces found 17 bodies buried at a primary school, said Col. Tariq Yousif, the security supervisor in the city. The area had been under the control of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
The United States military reported that one soldier died Monday from wounds sustained when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
The military also clarified that its first reports on Monday that soldiers had mistakenly killed three Iraqi policemen in a raid in Ramadi were incorrect. The people killed were armed men, but not the police.
Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Basra and Diwaniya.
 


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