Saturday, March 26, 2005

Peace and Freedom

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army have not been much in the news lately, but they're a major concern in Iraq.

In the week of March 14th, members of the Mahdi Army beat and shot two Iraqi students to death. The students had offended the Mahdi Army by having a picnic in the park and playing music.

The murders occured in view of local police and British troops, neither of whom intervened.

Sadr and the Mahdi Army are able to behave so thuggishly because the local elected officials are too afraid to do anything about them. Coalition forces will not act without those cowed official's sanction.

Meanwhile, there's an active campaign underway for Sistani to receive the Nobel peace prize.

More about this at Healing Iraq.


Blogger Management said...

Mahdi Army Beats 2 Students to Death in Basrah
No one seems to have reported the latest events in Basrah. Not any of the news services or the blogs.

Students of the Basrah and Shatt Al-Arab universities in Basrah city have been on strike for the last three days as a reaction to the attack last week by Sadrists and Mahdi Army militiamen on tens of students organising a field trip or a picnic at Al-Andalus park, downtown Basrah.

Hooded men assaulted the students with rubber cables and truncheons which resulted in the death of a Christian girl, Zahra Ashour, and another student who came to her rescue after militiamen had tore off her clothes and were beating her to death. He was shot in the head.

Students say that their belongings, such as mobile phones, cameras, stereo players and loudspeakers, were stolen or smashed to pieces by the militiamen. Girl students not wearing headscarves, most of them Christian, were severely beaten and at least 20 students were kidnapped and taken to Sadr's office in Al-Tuwaisa for 'interrogation' and were only released late at night.

Students also say the police and British soldiers were nearby but did not intervene.

A Sheikh As'ad Al-Basri, one of Sadr's aides in Basrah, stated that the 'believers' of the Mahdi Army did what they did in an act of 'divine intervention' in order to punish the students for their 'immoral and outrageous behaviour' during the 'holy month of Muharram, while the blood of Imam Hussein is yet to dry.' He added that he had sent the 'group of believers' to observe and photograph the students, and on witnessing them playing loud music, 'the kind they play in bars and discos', and openly talking to female students, the 'believers had to straighten things out'.

No reaction yet from the Governorate council, the police, or the British forces in Basrah. Thousands of students have been demonstrating in front of the Basrah Governorate building in Asharr for the last three days, shouting 'No to political Islam', 'No to the new tyranny' and 'No to Sadr'. The police (which is loyal to Da'wa in Basrah) reportedly attacked the students in order to disperse the demonstrations.

All this while some people are campaigning for Sistani to receive the Nobel peace prize. One can't help but wonder if these kinds of events are what the Islamists have in store for us when they insist on 'respecting the Islamic identity of Iraq'.

They can blame Jordan, Syria, the Ba'ath, Salifis, Wahhabis as much as they want, but they cannot utter a single word about the old new medieval Inquisition we have to deal with every day, under the sanctity of Sistani and his ilk. The new Taliban.


Update: The Governor of Basrah appeared on Fayhaa tv yesterday claiming that the problem with Sadr's office was resolved peacefully. How exactly was this achieved? The esteemed Governor (who is a member of Da'wa) met with representatives from Sadr's office under the mediation of the Shia Islamic parties in Basrah (Da'wa, SCIRI, Fadheela, Thar Allah) and it appears that Sadr's aides had agreed to 'punish the guilty parties under a special religious court that would convene for this purpose' and to compensate the students and to return all stolen items to the students. The Governor then cheerfully met with the family of another Christian girl who was badly injured, 'generously' offering her free treatment in any country she chooses.

No mention of the rule of law here. No involvement of Basrah's civil courts at all. The whole incident was mopped up in an Iraqi-style tribal-religious meeting, but this time on the Governorate level. The guilty parties were sinisterly assigned the job of punishing themselves. A great lesson in democracy. But then, no one was punished for the executions and torture at religious courts in Najaf the last time anyway.

What is even worse, the official statement from Sadr's office in Basrah. It asks for the names of the students that were 'allegedly mistreated' in order to compensate them. And listen to this; 'Sadr's office in Basrah offers to provide the universities of Basrah with groups to protect the students in their future field trips.' This following Sheikh As'ad Al-Basri's fiery statements that the students had 'disobeyed his orders, and the stick was for those who disobeyed,' alasa limen asa. He also alleged that the students had shouted 'No to Islam' in their demonstrations this week, insolently adding that the students should be punished for their 'blasphemy'.

The Governor literally appointed Sadr's office as judge, witness and law-enforcer. We might even say that the Sadrists were in fact rewarded for their vile act. What would the Ministry of Higher Education say about this? Or the Ministry of Interior? Or our ludicrous Human Rights Ministry, which only seems interested in what kind of cookies Saddam is having with his tea, or in Ali Hassan Majid's nocturnal toilet activities.

The students of Basrah have made their demands clear; bringing the Sadrist militiamen to a public trial in the presence of representatives from Basrah's student groups, banning Islamist armed groups from entering campus or running Islamist student groups, and the dissolution of the infamous 'Security Committee' which operates in most of Basrah's colleges, and which is reminiscient of the Ba'ath's 'University Security' but taking a Shi'ite Islamic appearance instead of a fascist nationalistic one.

Student groups from Baghdad, Arbil and Suleimaniya have sent statements of support to Basrah. Incidentally, four students were injured in Suleimaniya during demonstrations that have been taking place for the second week in row against the privatisation of educational institutions in the Kurdish region.

Still no condemnation from the the Hawza, when the attack against the students was done in its name.

Another Update: Here is a detailed account of the incident from the Times which confirms the death of the two students, and here is a Yahoo News story.
There have been rumours that nobody died from the attacks but it seems that these rumours originated from sympathetic Islamic parties and their supporters, all of whom are Shi'ite, and for some bizarre reason they are denying that it was a Christian girl that died, but a Muslim one, as if that is going to make it any less outrageous. The same people who rant about Wahhabi and Salafi crimes everyday. Pot meet kettle.

Friends from Basrah say the sit-in at Basrah university is still in effect, with Sadr's militia now threatening to bomb the campus with mortars if the students do not return to their classes. Governmental authorities and the police force in Basrah have publicly admitted that they are helpless and incapable of doing anything to stop the Sadrists.

Actually, all this is for the good of Iraq. At least the Iraqis can now realise what kind of 'progressive' and 'blessed' monsters they have elected to govern them and write their constitution.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Mahdi Army
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
(Redirected from Al-Mahdi Army)

The Mahdi Army, also known as the Mehdi Army or Jaish-i-Mahdi, is a militia force created by the Iraqi radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in June of 2003. The Islamist militants rose to international prominence on April 4, 2004 when it spearheaded the first major armed confrontation against the U.S-led occupation forces in Iraq from the Shiite community in an uprising that followed the banning of al-Sadr's newspaper and attempts to arrest him, and lasted until June 6. The group is armed with AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and other light weapons. The truce agreed to in June was followed by moves to disband the militia and transform al-Sadr's movement into a political party to take part in the 2005 elections; Muqtada al Sadr ordered fighters of the Mahdi army to go into a ceasefire unless attacked first. The truce broke down in August 2004, with new hostilities breaking out, but has remained largely peaceful since. National Independent Cadres and Elites party that ran in the 2005 Iraqi election was closely linked with the army.
Contents [showhide]
1 Early history
2 Battles for the Shiite Heartland

2.1 Uprising Begins
2.2 April hostilities
2.3 June truce
2.4 August 2004 hostilities
3 Iraqi reactions
4 Recent developments
5 Name
6 See also
7 External links

Early history

The Mahdi Army began as a small group of roughly 500 seminary students connected with Moqtada al-Sadr in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam City. The group moved in to fill the security vacuum in Sadr City and in a string of southern Iraqi cities following the fall of Baghdad to U.S-led coalition forces on April 9, 2003. The group initially dispensed aid to Iraqis and provided security in the Shiite slums from looters.

Gradually, the militia grew and was formalized by al-Sadr in June of 2003. Jaish-i-Mahdi grew into a sizeable force of up to 10,000 militia who even operated what amounted to a shadow government in some areas. Al-Sadr's preaching is critical of the US occupation, but he formerly withheld unleashing his militia on Coalition forces and joining the attacks already being waged by guerillas from the Sunni community.

Battles for the Shiite Heartland

Uprising Begins

Sadr's position changed dramatically, however, by the beginning of April. Following the closure of the Sadr-owned newspaper al-Hawza and the arrest of one of his senior aides, Sadr gave an unusually heated sermon to his followers on Friday, April 2, 2004. The next day, violent protests occurred throughout the Shiite south that soon spilled over into a violent uprising by Jaish-i-Mahdi militiamen, fully underway by April 4.

April hostilities

The Jaish-i-Mahdi forces began an offensive in Najaf, Kufa, Kut, and Sadr City, seizing control of public buildings and police stations while clashing with coalition forces. The militants gained partial control of Karbala after fighting there. Other coalition forces came under attack in Nasiriyah, and British forces also came under fire in Amarah and Basra. Najaf and Kufa were quickly seized after a few firefights with Spanish troops, and Kut was seized after clashes with Ukrainian troops soon afterwards.

After sporadic clashes, Coalition forces temporarily suppressed most militia activity in Nasiriyah, Amarah, and Basra. Mahdi rebels expelled Iraqi police from three police stations and ambushed U.S forces in Sadr City, killing seven U.S troops and wounding several more. U.S forces subsequently regained control of the police stations after running firefights with the fighters that killed dozens of Iraqis. Jaish-i-Mahdi members still maintained influence over many of the slum areas of Sadr City, however.

On April 16, Kut was retaken by Coalition forces, leaving the area around Najaf and Kufa along with Karbala still left left under the firm control of Sadr's forces. Sadr himself was believed holed up inside Najaf. Troops put a cordon around Najaf with 2500 troops, but reduced the number of forces to pursue negotiations with Jaish-i-Mahdi. At the beginning of May, coalition forces estimated that there were 200-500 militants still present in Karbala, 300-400 in Diwaniyah, an unknown number still left in Amarah and Basra, and 1,000-2,000 still holed up in the Najaf-Kufa region.

On May 4, coalition forces began a counter-offensive to eliminate Jaish-i-Mahdi in southern Iraq following a breakdown in negotiations. The first wave began with simultaneous raids in Karbala and Diwaniyah on militia forces, followed by a second wave on May 5 in Karbala and more attacks that seized the governor's office in Najaf on May 6. 76 militiamen were estimated killed in the fighting along with 4 U.S soldiers. On May 8, U.S forces launched a follow-up offensive into Karbala, launching a two-pronged attack into the city. U.S tanks also launched an incursion into Sadr City. At the same time, perhaps as a diversionary tactic, hundreds of Mahdi Army insurgents swept through Basra, firing on British patrols and seizing parts of the city. 2 militants were killed and several British troops were wounded.

On May 24, after suffering heavy losses in weeks of fighting, Mahdi Army forces withdrew from the city of Karbala. This left the only area still under their firm control being the Najaf-Kufa region, also under sustained American assault. Several hundred Mahdi Army rebels in total were killed in clashes with the far better trained and equipped American forces. Unfazed by the fighting, Moqtada al-Sadr regularly gave Friday sermons in Kufa throughout the uprising.

June truce

On June 6, 2004, Moqtada al-Sadr issued an announcement directing Jaish-i-Mahdi to cease operations in Najaf and Kufa. Remnants of the militia soon ceased bearing arms and halted the attacks on U.S forces. Gradually, militamen left the area or went back to their homes. On the same day, Brigadier General Mark Hertling, a top US commander in charge of Najaf, Iraq, stated "The Moqtada militia is militarily defeated. We have killed scores of them over the last few weeks, and that is in Najaf alone. [...] The militia have been defeated, or have left." June 6 effectively marked the end of Shiite uprising. The total number of Mahdi Army militamen killed in the fighting across Iraq is estimated at 1,500.

The return of Najaf to Iraqi security forces following the cease-fire left Sadr City as the last bastion of Mahdi Army guerillas still pursuing violent resistance. Clashes continued periodically in the district following the end of the Najaf-Kufa battles. On June 24, Jaish-i-Mahdi declared an end to operations in Sadr City as well, effectively ending militia activity, at least for the time being. Sadr appears to be planning to turn his faction into a political party, having gained a good deal of public support.

After the 4 June truce with the occupation forces, al-Sadr took steps to disband the Mehdi army. In a statement, he called on militia members from outside Najaf to "do their duty" and go home. US forces in Najaf were then replaced by Iraqi police. al-Sadr told supporters not to attack Iraqi security forces and set himself up to become a political force announcing his intention to form a party and contest the 2005 elections. He said the interim government was an opportunity to build a unified Iraq. Interim President Ghazi Yawer gave assurances that al-Sadr could join the political process provided he abandoned his militia. Iraqi officials also assured al-Sadr that he was not to face arrest. [1] (

August 2004 hostilities

The June settlement was broken. US troops arrested Sadr's representative in Karbala, Sheikh Mithal al Hasnawi on 31 July [2] ( and surrounded al-Sadr's home on 3 August, resulting in heavy gunfire, mortar shelling and grenade blasts. The apparent aim was to arrest al-Sadr and destroy his movement. [3] (, [4] (, [5] (, [6] (,2763,1278178,00.html) British troops in Basra also moved against al-Sadr followers, arresting four on 3 August. After the expiry of a noon deadline to release them on 5 August, the Basra militia men declared holy war on British forces. [7] (

On 5 August, via his spokesman Ahmed al-Shaibany, al-Sadr re-affirmed his commitment to the truce and called on US forces to honour the truce. He announced that if the restoration of the cease-fire failed "then the firing and igniting of the revolution will continue". [8] ( The offer was rejected by the governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi ("There is no compromise or room for another truce") and US officials ("This is one battle we really do feel we can win"). [9] ( However, the U.S military reported that the fighting began when Sadr's milita besieged a police station in Najaf and the local governor called for assistance. The most likely conclusion is that the Mahdi Army restarted the combat in response to a series of perceived provocations by the U.S Marines.

In the days that followed fighting continued around the old city of Najaf, in particular the Imam Ali shrine and the cemetery. The Mahdi army, estimated at 2,000 in Najaf, was outnumbered by some 2,000 US marines and 1,800 Allawi security forces, and at a disadvantage due to the vastly superior American firepower and air cover, such as helicopters and AC-130 gunships. On 13 August, the militia was trapped in a cordon around the Imam Ali shrine. While negotiations continued between the interim government and the Mahdi army, news came that al-Sadr had been wounded [10] (

On 12 August, British journalist James Brandon, a reporter for the Sunday Telegraph was kidnapped in Basra by unidentified militants. A video tape was released, featuring Brandon and a hooded militant, threatening to kill the British hostage unless US forces withdrew from Najaf within 24 hours. Brandon was released after less than a day, following intervention by al-Sadr. At a press conference immediately after his release, Brandon commented on his treatment and thanked his kidnappers: "Initially I was treated roughly, but once they knew I was a journalist I was treated very well and I want to say thank you to the people who kidnapped me." A spokesman for al-Sadr said: "We apologise for what happened to you. This is not our tradition, not our rules. It is not the tradition of Islam." [11] (, [12] ( For more information information on the standoff in Najaf, see Iraqi insurgency.

Iraqi reactions

The uprising seemed to draw an ambivalent reaction from the Iraqi population, which for the most part neither joined or resisted the rebels. Many Iraqi security forces melted away, wishing to avoid confrontation. In a sign of Jaish-i-Mahdi's unpopularity in Najaf, however, which follows more traditionalist clerics, a small covert movement sprung up to launch attacks on the militants. The uprising did receive a good deal of support from the Shiites of Baghdad, however, who were galvanized by the simultaneous siege of the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah.

However, scores of Iraqi policemen joined the Mahdi Army, and many Iraqi Shiites took to the streets in support of the uprising.

Recent developments

Since August the Army and al-Sadr have not challenged coalition troops on a wide scale. The coalition has made no move to arrest al-Sadr and they have not challenged the Army's de facto control over a number of areas in southern Iraq. The Army continues to provide security in a number of southern cities. Loyalists to al-Sadr ran under the National Independent Cadres and Elites banner in the 2005 Iraqi election. Though a number of the movements supporters felt that the election was invalid. The party finished sixth overall in the election and will be represented in the transitional legislature. Another twenty or so candidates aligned with al-Sadr ran for the United Iraqi Alliance.


The group's name, using the term Mahdi, has apocalyptic connotations.

In Islamic theology Al-Mahdi is an end-time figure who will assist the Al-Masih (the Messiah eg. Jesus of Nazarath) in defeating the Ad-Dajjal (Antichrist) and establish a just world-wide Islamic Caliphate in preparation for Al-Qayyam (Judgement Day).

In Shiite (specifically Jafari) theology, the Mahdi is a historic figure being indentified as the Twelfth Imam (Muhammad al-Mahdi) of the Jafari school of thought. He is believed to be present on earth, alive and in occultation, from whence he will emerge when the end-times approach. The Shiites further considered him to be the rightful ruler - or the Imam-e-Zaman (roughly "The Imam of (all) Eras") - of the Islamic ummah (community) at any given time.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Young Iraqis 'will make or break' democracy

Mon Mar 21, 6:28 AM ET

By Elliot Blair Smith, USA TODAY

Shiite Muslim fundamentalists loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr waded into a picnic of about 700 Basra University students last week. They beat several students with sticks and fired their guns in the air.

The clash in the southern Iraqi city was symbolic of deeper fissures in a society struggling with change.

The non-partisan Iraqi Prospect Organization says 60% of Iraqi university students believe democracy is superior to any other form of government, according to a nationwide poll published today.

But young Iraqis' understanding of democracy is "superficial," according to the pollsters.

Not surprisingly in a country destabilized by two years of violence, the pollsters found a belief that democratic freedom begins with the individual's right to be secure, rather than freedom of speech and assembly.

The dramatic philosophical divide between al-Sadr's fundamentalists, who battled U.S. and Iraqi forces last year in Baghdad and Najaf, and students who represent more progressive aspirations for Iraq (news - web sites)'s future, is likely to sharpen.

"Iraqi youth are the ones who will make or break the democratization of the country," said Ahmed Shames, chairman of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Prospect Organization, which interviewed 834 Iraqi university students about democracy in December and January.

Reactions to attack

Under pressure from government authorities, who denounced last Wednesday's attack and promised to investigate, al-Sadr's office in Basra issued a written apology to the students over the weekend. The youths' offenses appear to have been that male and female students sat together, dressed casually and listened to music celebrating spring's arrival.

Immediately after the attack, al-Sadr supporter Sheik Ahmed al-Basri defended the actions of the attackers. He expressed outrage that students at the picnic had engaged in "dancing, sexy dress and corruption."

Al-Basri added, "We beat them because we are authorized by Allah to do so, and that is our duty. It is we who should deal with such disobedience and not the police."

Students and their families demonstrated for three days in Basra after the assault. Some university students in other parts of the country reacted with outrage or apprehension over the fundamentalists' attack.

"The religious leaders have their social positions and respect, but that doesn't mean that they have the right to make others obey their orders by force," said Furssan Salah Al-Deen Ahmed, 22, a third-year political science student at the University of Baghdad.

"These fundamental groups know well how to monopolize fear and strike back at democracy," said Nadiya Shaban, 22, a fourth-year political science student at the university.

Shaban said she believes in freedom of speech. "There is no meaning of democracy without being able to express yourself," she said. But she also fears retaliation. "Let us take gradually to the (democratic) process," she said.

Engineering major Mohssen Abdullah Hussein, 19, who is more conservative, said, "Islam was not spread only by talk, but also by force. Still, I am saying it was possible to avoid the things that happened in Basra."

Al-Sadr's influence

Iraqi Prospect Organization's Shames said al-Sadr's group has made strong inroads at university campuses when mainstream political movements are all but invisible there. "The most organized groups inside the university are people loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr," he said. "They are definitely not playing a positive role in improving the understanding of democracy."

By comparison, he added, more mainstream parties have not made "a good effort to educate university students what democracy is."

The Iraqi Prospect Organization's interviews with university students - half in Baghdad and the rest distributed evenly in the north and south - showed that university students' enthusiasm for democracy is accompanied by a weak grasp of what democracy means.

For instance, 91% of the polled students said living without fear of arrest is essential to democracy. A third said majority rule is not essential. Almost half said the right to belong to one's political party of choice is not an essential component of democracy.

Many young adults here have lived through three wars - a decade-long conflict with Iran (news - web sites) and two clashes with the United States and its allies - and United Nations (news - web sites)-sponsored sanctions. Shames said they are fearful that the country's new democracy is too fragile to withstand fractious party politicking and vigorous debate.

"People see criticizing the government as (equivalent to) being opposed to the new government, as being opposed to the new Iraq," Shames said. "It shows how much needs to be done to improve the understanding of democracy."

Other attitudes on government

In other findings:

• 44% agree the president should be able to exercise absolute power during crises.

• 45% agree the judiciary should defer to the executive branch on key decisions.

• 55% agree the army should be allowed to intervene and govern when necessary.

Defense Ministry spokesman Majid al-Sari condemned last week's attack on the students in Basra.

"No group can take the government's role, especially when dealing with students, the future leaders of society," al-Sari said.

At the University of Baghdad, several students agreed.

Maysa'a Atta Meersa, 20, a chemistry major who is a follower of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite leader who has sought to moderate religious intervention in political life, feared the situation could get worse. "I am thinking very seriously with my family about this matter," Meersa said. "We might leave Iraq if these things (get worse)."

Munther Alwan, 29, a fourth-year political science student, was defiant.

"Everybody has his life and has the right to express himself the way he likes," he said. "The time of Saddam and his terror has gone and will never be back."

12:56 PM  
Blogger Management said...

March 23, 2005

Death at 'immoral' picnic in the park
By Catherine Philp
Students are beaten to death for playing music as Shia militiamen run amok

THE students had begun to lay out their picnic in the spring sunshine when the men attacked.

“There were dozens of them, armed with guns, and they poured into the park,” Ali al-Azawi, 21, the engineering student who had organised the gathering in Basra, said.

“They started shouting at us that we were immoral, that we were meeting boys and girls together and playing music and that this was against Islam.

“They began shooting in the air and people screamed. Then, with one order, they began beating us with their sticks and rifle butts.” Two students were said to have been killed.

Standing over them as the blows rained down was the man who gave the order, dressed in dark clerical garb and wearing a black turban. Ali recognised him immediately as a follower of Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric. Ali realised then that the armed men were members of Hojatoleslam al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, a private militia that fought American forces last year and is now enforcing its own firebrand version of Islam.

The picnic had run foul of the Islamist powers that increasingly hold sway in the fly-blown southern city, where religious militias rule the streets, forcing women to don the veil and closing down shops that sell alcohol or music.

In the election in January, the battle between secular and religious forces in Basra came down to the ballot box. The main Shia alliance triumphed with 70 per cent of the province’s vote, most of the rest going to a secular rival.

That victory has brought to a head the issue of whether Iraq’s new constitution will adopt Islamic law — or Sharia — as most religious Shia leaders desire.

In Basra, however, Islamic militias already are beginning to apply their own version of that law, without authority from above or any challenge from the police.

Students say that there was nothing spontaneous about the attack. Police were guarding the picnic in the park, as is customary at any large public gathering, but allowed the armed men in without any resistance.

One brought a video camera to record the sinful spectacle of the picnic, footage of which was later released to the public as a warning to others.

It showed images of one girl struggling as a gunman ripped her blouse off, leaving her half-naked. “We will send these pictures to your parents so they can see how you were dancing naked with men,” a gunman told her. Two students who went to her aid were shot — one in the leg, the other twice in the stomach. The latter was said to have died of his injuries. Fellow students say that the girl later committed suicide. Another girl who was severely beaten around the head lost her sight.

Far from disavowing the attack, senior al-Sadr loyalists said that they had a duty to stop the students’ “dancing, sexy dress and corruption”.

“We beat them because we are authorised by Allah to do so and that is our duty,” Sheik Ahmed al-Basri said after the attack. “It is we who should deal with such disobedience and not the police.”

After escaping with two students, Ali reached a police station and asked for help. “What do you expect me to do about it?” a uniformed officer asked.

Ali went to the British military base at al-Maakal and pleaded with the duty officer at the gate. “You’re a sovereign country now. We can’t help. You have to go to the Iraqi authorities,” the soldier replied.

When the students tried to organise demonstrations, they were broken up by the Mehdi Army. Later the university was surrounded by militiamen, who distributed leaflets threatening to mortar the campus if they did not call off the protests.

When the militia began to set up checkpoints and arrest students, Ali fled to Baghdad.

A British spokesman said that troops were unable to intervene unless asked to by the Iraqi authorities.

Colonel Kareem al-Zeidy, Basra’s police chief, pleaded helplessness. “What can I do? There is no government, no one to give us authority,” he said. “The political parties are the most powerful force in Basra right now.”

The students have begun an indefinite strike, but fear that there is little that they can do to stop the march of violent fundamentalism. Saleh, 21, another engineering student, said: “If this is how they deal with the most educated in Basra, how would they deal with ordinary people? The soul of our city is at stake.”

12:56 PM  

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