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Iraq violence: Spreading south?
by BBC (reposted)
Thursday Sep 8th, 2005 12:48 PM
It has been a bad week in the normally quiet and mainly Shia south of Iraq, where British troops have been trying to maintain order since the end of the 2003 war.
Now, the coalition and Iraqi authorities are wondering whether they are seeing the start of a fresh wave of violence in the run up to next month's referendum on the new Iraqi constitution.

A bomb outside a restaurant in Basra was the third attack in as many days.

Sixteen people were killed and 21 injured when a pick-up truck full of explosives was detonated near a restaurant popular with the Iraqi security forces. Among the dead were two children.

A short distance away, another car bomb was discovered by police officers who carried out a controlled explosion.

It was almost certainly meant to catch the emergency services as they tried to save people injured in the first blast.

Such tactics have been rare in Basra and are more commonly used by insurgents in the mainly Sunni north of Iraq, where American forces have had a hard time.

Earlier attacks

It has been almost a year-and-a-half since the south last suffered anything similar.

In April last year, 73 people died after suicide bombers carried out co-ordinated blasts at three police stations in Basra and the police academy in nearby Zubeir.

This latest explosion followed the deaths of four US security guards in Basra.

They were killed on Wednesday when their vehicle was hit by a bomb in Basra - hurling it off a bridge onto nearby land.

The contractors were providing protection for US diplomats in the city.

Two days earlier, two British soldiers were killed when their armoured Land Rover, part of a convoy, was targeted on a road close to their headquarters.

Better explosives

The attacks on both the British and the Americans were claimed by an al-Qaeda group operating in Iraq. It described the British soldiers as "crusaders".

Senior British sources have told me in recent weeks that they have not excluded the possibility of a rise in violence in the south during the campaigning for the constitutional referendum.

They will now be trying to ascertain whether these attacks are the start of that trouble.

They are also concerned that the insurgents may be changing their tactics.

Better explosives and detonators are thought to have been coming over the border from neighbouring Iran. They are not just enabling more numerous attacks, but also ensuring greater effectiveness.

British forces have been used to patrolling Basra without helmets, projecting an image of friendliness, believing that will win over the local population.

They will now be increasingly alert, hoping that the serious problems of northern Iraq are not beginning to seep south.
by UK Independent (reposted)
Thursday Sep 8th, 2005 6:53 PM

A series of deadly bomb attacks in and around the city of Basra this week has undermined the British Army's claim to have largely kept southern Iraq free from the violence engulfing the rest of the country.

Sixteen people were killed and 21 injured when a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant near a market in the centre of Basra on Wednesday. Two police cars and several shops were destroyed.

On the same day a roadside bomb killed four American private security guards when the explosion threw the SUV in which they were travelling into a ravine where it landed on its roof. The men were working for the US consulate. Al-Qa'ida militants based in Iraq claimed responsibility in a statement on the internet.

Earlier in the week, two British soldiers were killed by a bomb as they travelled west of Basra, a mostly Shia city of 1.5 million people.

The most likely explanation for the rise in violence in the area is that al-Qa'ida wants to show that it can strike anywhere in Iraq. The restaurant blown up was in Hayaniyah market in a Shiah district of Basra, which is in keeping with al-Qa'ida's policy of attackingplaces where Shia civilians are known to gather.

British authority in the far south of Iraq has been looking increasingly shaky in recent weeks as Shia militias, often in control of local police, gain in strength. There has been a spate of assassinations of Sunni political leaders and former Baath party members in the city by men wearing police uniforms and using vehicles with police markings.

The most powerful militia is the Badr Brigade (renamed the Badr Organisation and supposedly disarmed). It is the military arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the largest Shia party and which did well in the elections in January. The Army of Mehdi, which is loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, is also influential.

Local officials acknowledge that three-quarters of the 13,600 police force in Basra gave their loyalty to the religious parties. More than 65 assassinations, mostly against Sunni, have been carried out in Basra since May. An American journalist who wrote about the infiltration of local police by the militias was murdered, apparently by policemen. If the Sunni community feels under threat from Shia militants then it may, as in Baghdad, become more inclined to support the insurgents.

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