Iraqis Protest in Basra Over Security
By BUSHRA JUHI
BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of people took to the streets Saturday in Basra, protesting deteriorating security in the southern city where Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for safety last December.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said that Iraqi security forces had discovered a mass grave in Diyala province containing perhaps 100 bodies. Also Saturday, two separate bombings in the province northeast of Baghdad left six people dead.
In Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city and the urban center of an oil-rich region, Shiite groups have been wrestling for control.
Residents are becoming increasingly alarmed, saying that killings, kidnappings and other crimes have increased significantly since British forces turned over responsibility for Basra at the end of last year.
In February, two journalists working for CBS were kidnapped in the city. One was released but the other, a Briton, is still being held.
As many as 5,000 people demonstrated near the Basra police command headquarters Saturday, demanding that the police chief, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, and the commander of joint military-police operation, Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji, resign.
Many carried banners, decrying the killing of women, workers, academics and scientists. Dozens of women were slain in Basra by religious extremists last year because of how they dressed, their mutilated bodies found with notes warning against “violating Islamic teachings.”
Saturday’s protesters, overwhelmingly men, came from several Shiite political movements, including the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its militia wing, known as the Badr Brigade.
Khalaf said at a news conference later that “today’s demonstration was a natural right of the citizens and the political parties to express their opinions.”
He defended the performance of the police, saying they had freed 10 people who were kidnapped in the past 10 days and “detained 64 people accused of carrying out sabotage and terrorist operations all over Basra.”
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