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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Basra residents express dissatisfaction

BASRA, 13 April 2004 (IRIN) - A year ago, people in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, a Shi'ite stronghold of 1.4 million, were happy to see the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. Months of unrest is still growing as people become impatient for change since Coalition forces took control on 7 April, 2003.

Local people say the city, some 550 km southwest of the capital, Baghdad, has been relatively quiet since US-led forces overthrew the former Iraqi leader on 9 April. But disturbances have increased in recent weeks, with the unemployed holding several marches and other protests led by Iraqi security service staff seeking monthly salaries or pension payments.

A few weeks ago, some 100 protesters who were demanding salaries, threw stones and set tyres on fire. On 3 April angry unemployed Iraqi protesters stormed the central post office, setting the building on fire, and clashing with police and British forces. Some took advantage of the chaos and stole from the local post office building.

"The demonstrations occurred because of false promises we keep hearing about reconstruction either by the Iraqi Governing Council (ICG) or the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)," Ahmed Eissa, a former government employee who lost his job after the war, told IRIN in Basra.

"If the security situation is better and kept under control, many foreign companies will come and work and create job opportunities. If people can't find food for their families, there will be more and more violence," he maintained.

Under Saddam, the southern region was neglected particularly after a Shi'ite revolt in 1991, when the city staged an uprising against the regime. But without coalition support Saddam's forces crushed the uprising, killing thousands.

Um Wissam, a woman who lives in a richer part of Basra said that her cousin was kidnapped two weeks ago because he looks wealthy. He was taken out of the town and into the middle of the desert. She said he was set free when he was found to have no money on him.

Many residents of Basra are not hopeful that the security situation will be better soon. They say the police and British forces are ineffective against regular street crime. Murders, carjacking and kidnappings are continuing, they say.

According to a CPA spokesman Tim Smith, the British army, which occupies Basra with about 8,200 soldiers, prefers to allow Iraqi police fight local crime, although soldiers occasionally mount joint operations with them.

Smith said he thought people were beginning to have more confidence in the police, but demonstrations would remain for the time being. "But generally the security in the southern part is pretty stable," he told IRIN.

Other Iraqis are prepared to ignore security as new business opportunities emerge. Traders in the city say they think the situation is much better than before. Shopkeeper Muhannad al-diraway, sells mobile phones in the centre of Basra and he agreed that there had been some positive progress. "I've had this shop since 1998 but I've only been able to sell popular goods now such as CDs and mobile phones. We started to have an internet access in 2000, but we have only been able to access it properly now," he told IRIN.

A man who had a big grocery store in the same area said that most of the food stuff and clothes were now coming from different neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Syria, and Iran. "All these were forbidden to enter during the sanctions years. Now everything is available and without customs," Ziad Abdalla told IRIN.

Ali Abdel Wahab, a member of the Basra Chamber of Commerce and a coordinator between the local council of Basra and the CPA told IRIN that there had been a recent agreement to give the Chamber of Commerce in Basra some autonomy from Baghdad and the rest of the country.

"This way, we are far from bureaucratic procedures of Baghdad and we are hopeful to receive foreign companies to invest here soon especially now that the security situation here is more encouraging than in Baghdad, " he explained.


Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights



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