Basra attacks

Those who insist that conflicts and struggles in Iraq are entirely the fault of, or entirely a reaction to, or entirely aimed at the occupation should take a read of The Times report on the Islamist thuggery against students in Basra which we reported on here.

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.

……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.

According to the report the Iraqi police have done nothing since. They claim they lack the ‘authority’ to take action and that the word needs to come from politicians – a highly dubious position to take.

British troops are in and around Basra but are not supposed to be involved in policing work unless asked to by local authorities. Which raises a question – While the transition process involves restoring power to domestic Iraqi institutions should not British troops be asked to defend basic human rights in the city they are based in? A supplementary question – should we demanding that they do so?

A less significant issue, but one I am going to point out anyway, is that the leaders of the British anti-war movement have held meetings with the leaders of these al-Sadr thugs and have, in the past, expressed their support for them.

According to this report of a RESPECT meeting, which I have not seen disputed, John Rees of the SWP and a leading figure in both RESPECT and Stop the War actually met with members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Beirut in September.

They had told him that they are “defending their country” and that to understand their methods we should think of the battles of the French and Italian Resistance during World War Two.

“I don’t propose to lecture the Iraqi people on the methods they use, and neither should we”, declared Rees.

I know members of the SWP read this blog so I invite then to ask John Rees to explain if that is still his position?

In fact Rees is welcome to email me his answer which I will gladly post here.