Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, about 600km south of Baghdad, is still under the sway of militants and criminal groups, and security forces are absent, residents and local officials told IRIN on 11 March.
“We are living in hell,” said Abbas Mohammed al-Lami, a 48-year-old mathematics teacher. “The security situation is getting worse day by day and if it continues like this, residents will either get killed or leave the city.”
“Assassinations, killings, attacks and different assaults are taking place every day and everywhere in the city, while security forces are doing nothing except showing off in the streets with their car sirens,” he said.
“The government is losing control to criminal groups… No one is safe in this city, all are targeted and for no sins committed,” said Aliya Ramadhan Hadi, a 52-year-old housewife.
The oil-rich city of Basra has seen fierce fighting since the US-led invasion in 2003 between rival Shia militias in a violent power struggle, and has also seen attacks by militants on UK and Iraqi security forces.
|We are living in hell. The security situation is getting worse day by day and if it continues like this, residents will either get killed or leave the city.|
Frustrated by the security situation, thousands of Basra residents took to the streets on 8 March, demanding the resignation of provincial police and army chiefs for not improving security.
Their banners read: “We ask the government to chase down and punish those who committed assassinations in Basra,” and “No, no to Jalil and Mohan,” referring to police chief Maj-Gen Abdul-Jalil Khalaf and army commander Lt-Gen Mohan al-Fireji.
The demonstrators asked the government and provincial authorities to launch a comprehensive investigation into what they called “systematic assassinations and killings”.
The city’s physicians have joined those protesting against insecurity by going on strike, demanding protection for themselves and their families.
The bullet-riddled body of Khalid Nasser al-Mayahi, a neurologist at Basra general hospital, was found dumped in the street on 10 March, a day after he was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen, according to Muaid Jumaa, head of the Basra Doctors’ Association.
|A map of Iraq highlighting Basra province|
“By going on strike, we want to convey a message not only to the government but also to the whole world to make them understand the plight of doctors in Iraq and especially in Basra,” Jumaa told IRIN in a telephone interview.
“Each month there is at least one assassination or kidnapping for ransom, or an assault on a doctor or his family, and we don’t know the reason or who is behind this,” Jumaa said.
“And the most regrettable thing is that the government is doing nothing to investigate any of these assaults. The government security forces are negligent and absent,” he said.
This week’s strike is the second in less than a year in Basra. Last July, the city’s nearly 150 doctors went on a three-day strike “but the government has done nothing to protect us since then,” Jumaa said, adding that at least 15 doctors had been killed in Basra by unidentified gunmen since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, and dozens of others had fled the city.
His association wants to hold a meeting with provincial officials to discuss protection “or we all will leave the city or abandon our work as doctors”.
At least 133 women were killed in Basra by religious extremists last year because of how they dressed, their mutilated bodies dumped and bearing notes warning against "violating Islamic teachings," according to a security report released early this year by local authorities.
In December 2007 British forces formally handed over responsibility of Basra to the Iraqi authorities. It was the ninth out of 18 provinces to revert to Iraqi government control. The UK’s remaining 4,500 troops will go down to 2,500 from spring 2008.