Monday, September 19, 2005

What's Happening In Basra Is Bad

*** Scroll down for updates.

Let's start with Hurricane Rita. According to the news, it may head our way after it hits south Florida. Galveston city officials called for voluntary evacuation ahead of Hurricane Rita. It's expected to hit our area on Saturday. On my real birthday. My husband promised to make me a hurricane drink to celebrate the day. We'll see how it goes.

Now to the "calm" city of Basra. Less than two months after the assassination-style murder of Steve Vincent, an Iraqi reporter working for The New York Times among other news organization was murdered in a similar style on Sunday. Newsweek reported:

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An Iraqi journalist working for The New York Times was killed after men claiming to be police officers abducted him from his home in the southern city of Basra, the newspaper announced Monday.

Fakher Haider, a 38-year-old reporter covering Basra, was found dead in a deserted area on the city's outskirts Monday morning after his abduction late Sunday night.

Relatives identified the body at the city morgue and said he appeared to have been shot more than once in the head. His back was bruised, suggesting he had been beaten, the Times said.

Haider, who had worked for the Times since the spring of 2003, also reported for other news organizations including Merbad TV, a local Basra station, as well as National Geographic and The Guardian, a London-based newspaper.
According to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, he is the 68th journalist killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003 and the 19th this year.


Treasure of Baghdad, an Iraqi reporter, has more on this subject.

Then there's the arrest of two Al-Sadr militiamen by the British forces, which sparked demonstrations by Al-Sadr followers in Basra. The Washington Post Reports:

The British army in the southern city of Basra said Sunday that it had arrested two prominent members of a militia affiliated with outspoken Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose armed followers quickly took to the streets to demand the release of the militiamen.

Sheik Ahmed Majid Farttusi and Sayyid Sajjad were detained in an early morning raid and are accused of being involved in attacks that killed at least nine soldiers, according to a statement from coalition forces.
After the arrests in Basra, dozens of Mahdi Army members with assault rifles marched to the provincial governor's office in protest. They withdrew by early afternoon following a meeting with the governor.


Nope, the drama doesn't stop here. The "calm" city witnessed more action during the last 48 hours. The BBC News reported this morning:

Two British soldiers have been arrested in the southern Iraq city of Basra, sparking clashes outside a police station where they are being held.

The men, said to have been under cover, reportedly exchanged fire with police after failing to stop at a checkpoint.

Two British tanks, sent to the police station where the soldiers are being held, were set alight in clashes.

Three UK servicemen were injured during the day, but the MoD would not say if they were caught in the firebombing.


May I ask why would the two soldiers be undercover?

The two soldiers were released by force later last night, Basra's local time as reported by the Washington Post:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 19 -- British armored vehicles backed by helicopter gunships burst through the walls of an Iraqi jail Monday in the southern city of Basra to free two British commandos detained earlier in the day by Iraqi police, witnesses and Iraqi officials said. The incident climaxed a confrontation between the two nominal allies that had sparked hours of gun battles and rioting in Basra's streets.

An Iraqi official said half a dozen armored vehicles had smashed into the jail, the Reuters news agency reported. The provincial governor, Mohammed Walli, told news agencies that the British assault was "barbaric, savage and irresponsible."


I sent Queen Amidala an e-mail this afternoon to ask her about the situation and how accurate the news coming from Basra is. She replied:

The news is true, and we didn't hear it until a few hours ago - especially the arrest of the two Brits. We knew of the arrest of Al-Mehdi army's leader since yesterday.

Believe me, if all members of the Mehdi army were here, it would have been much much worse. But, most of them are attending the yearly visit to Najef and Karbela.

Combat is still ongoing - especially in Al-Jemeyat district. I think it's getting worse. It seems all parties are together in this one.
I don't know what to say. God help us if it gets really bad.

BTW, most of the Christian families are fleeing Basra. I know so far of almost six families who fled to Lebanon and the number is growing incredibly fast -- most of them are Assyrians.

Queen Amidala

Please keep Basrawis in your prayers. You have no idea how much this city suffered for the last 25 years. The city needs peace more than you can ever imagine.


UPDATE 09/21/2005 - I
Yesterday, I sent Queen Amidala an e-mail to check on the situation in Basra. She sent me back the following e-mail this morning:

At first, I thought the situation was going to settle down for a while. But, I was mistaken because today at 2:30am they started to bomb the palace, where the U.S. and U.K. embassies are located. They continued the bombing until 7:00am.

We went to work as usual because this bombing is very familiar to us as you know.

Anyway, I will keep you informed about the situation.

Take care.

Queen Amidala

UPDATE 09/21/2005 - II
The New York Times published more details on the murder of Iraqi journalist Fakher Haider (Via Big Pharaoh):

On Sunday, Mr. Haider filed reports on the arrest by British forces of two high-ranking members of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al Sadr. Members of the Mahdi Army had rallied in protest earlier in the day, and threatened violence if the men were not released.

Shortly after midnight, two cars, one of them a sedan, one a police car, drove up and parked outside Mr. Haider's apartment building, said witnesses at the scene, who said they could not be identified without jeopardizing their lives.

Three of the men, who had AK-47 assault rifles, entered the apartment building as frightened neighbors emerged from their homes, said Mr. Haider's wife, Intisar Abbas Hamza. They then entered the apartment and ransacked it, she said.

The gunmen took Mr. Haider's phones, his pistol, and some videotapes, Ms. Hamza said. As they prepared to leave, they told her they were only going to interrogate him for a few hours and bring him back.

Mr. Haider told his wife not to worry, and then quickly wrote down the phone number of a friend and fellow journalist, telling her to tell the friend to call the Basra's governor's office. The gunmen were standing by at the time, Ms. Hamza said.

In recent months, Mr. Haider had confided to friends that he was worried about the increasingly violent atmosphere in Basra. In July, gunmen in a pickup truck chased his car and fired at him, and he narrowly escaped after driving off the road and firing his pistol into the air, he told one friend, who asked not to be identified.


We're losing Basra, aren't we?

UPDATE 09/21/2005 - III
The Daily Star reported:

The governor of Basra, its provincial government, and hundreds of protesters said they will end all cooperation with British forces in the southern Iraqi city until Britain apologizes for deadly clashes between its forces and Iraqi police. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari sought to play down the "regrettable incident," telling reporters in London it "will not affect our relations with Britain."

In Basra, up to 500 Iraqis, including policemen, marched through the streets, calling for the city police chief to be fired and for the "British terrorists" to be returned to Iraqi jurisdiction.

Several hours later, Basra's provincial council held an emergency meeting and voted unanimously "to stop dealing with the British forces working in Basra and not to cooperate with them because of their irresponsible aggression on a government facility."

In a statement, the council demanded Britain apologize to Basra's citizens and police, and provide compensation for the families of people killed or wounded in the violence.


Basrawis need an apology from the British troops. That's the least they can do this time. The incident was a test of Iraqi sovereignty. Unfortunately, Basrawis woke up to the fact that the British troops still have the last word.

UPDATE 09/21/2005 - IV
Middle East Online reported:

Iraq's national security advisor says extent to which insurgents infiltrated police force remains unclear.

LONDON - Insurgents have infiltrated Iraq's police force, but the extent to which they have done so remains unclear, Iraq's national security advisor Muwaffaq Rubaie said Tuesday.

"Our Iraqi security forces in general, police in particular, in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit, have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists as well," he told BBC television. "I can't deny this."
He added: "I can't give you a percentage of the extent of the penetration, but I have to admit that the Iraqi security forces are penetrated. To what extent I don't know."


Well, I'm glad someone in the Iraqi government admitted we have a problem here. It took the lives of two reporters, Steve Vincent and Fakher Haider, to get to this point. Anyway, it's a move in the right direction. So, I can't complain.

I've been checking the hurricane center and the weather channel all day long as Beaumont is under Hurricane Rita's watch. That's why I couldn't answer your comments. I'll get to them when the hurricane make up its mind.

Madtom, don't worry. I'm taking the hurricane seriously this time.

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