Saturday, October 06, 2007

Rise In Basra Killings Follows British Departure

In part because of the security situation, in part, I suspect, because it's easier for reporters to cover U.S. excesses in Iraq than Islamic ones, the surge in Islamic fundamentalist killings that has followed the British departure from the city of Basra hasn't gotten much exposure in the American press. Not too many reporters go to Basra these days.

All the more important then, that two reporters from the McClatchy newspapers, Jay Price and Ali Omar al-Basri, have in recent days given us an account of the situation in the southern Iraqi city, and it shows what happens when Allied troops leave.

To sum it up, women who are viewed as insufficiently Muslim, are being killed. They have become the victims of violent Muslim extremists, and there have been about 15 murders a month, with the bodies being found later in the streets.

The story quotes the Basra police commander, Maj. Gen. Abdel Jalil Khalaf, as saying Thursday that self-styled enforcers of religious law have been threatening, beating and sometimes shooting women for wearing Western clothes or not wearing a head scarf.

"This is a new type of terror that Basra is not familiar with," the police commander said. "These gangs represent only themselves, and they are far outside religious, forgiving instructions of Islam."

How convenient not to blame it on Islam, but, of course, assaulting women is as common among Islamic fundamentalists as cherry pie is American. It sounds in this case, as if the Taliban has come to Iraq, a country which under Saddam Hussein, at least treated women more fairly as a group than most Arab countries.

Even some men have been attacked by the gangs, in their case for wearing clothes or having haircuts deemed to be too Western.

But it's mostly women who are the victims.

The McClatchy story tells how "the vigilantis patrol the streets of Basra on motorbikes or in cars with dark-tinted windows and no license plates. They accost women who aren't wearing the traditional robe and head scarf known as hijab."

Some of those assaulted aren't Muslims at all, but part of the city's small remaining Christian community. Many of those have fled the city since the British left.

Fuad Na'im, a Christian, told the reporters that simply the way his wife dressed made his whole family a target.

"I was with my wife a few days ago when two young men driving a motorbike stopped me and asked her about her clothes and why she doesn't wear hijab," Na'im said. "When I told them that we are Chistians, they beat us badly, and I would be dead if some people nearby hadn't intervened."

He said he and his family have decided to leave Basra and move north, where there are both more Christians and, also, the American army.

The story also mentions that a clause of the new Iraqi Constitution amends women's equality to say that this can't contradict "established rulings" of Islam that weaken women's rights. I wonder whether this provision escaped the Americans who helped write the new Constitu tion, or whether they accepted it so as to not make waves in the corrupt Iraqi society.

The British, whose forces in Iraq are being reduced by about 1,000, to 4,500, by the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, withdrew from Basra city earlier this year and are now mainly at an airbase outside of town. Even before they left, murderous exchanges had grown between Shiite factions. Basra is mainly Shiite.

It all raises a nasty question about Iraq: Are the Iraqis suited to governing themselves, or wouldn't this country be better off either dismembered or somebody's colony? Not ours, of course, and, hopefully, not Iran's.

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