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Britene praktiserer tydeligvis en annen politikk enn amerikanerne og tolererer en islamsk milits i Basra som tvinger kvinnene til å gå med slør. For to uker siden var det sammenstøt mellom Thar’Allah og britene, og det endte med at militsen fikk sine våpen igjen.

Radical political parties and militia groups, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army – which took over the Basra governor’s office on Monday and clashed with British troops in Amara – have taken advantage of the situation, offering a radical Islamic message. Sayed Youssef al-Musawi, head of the Thar’Allah militia group, said: «We offer security and the true voice of Islam.»

The groups have been responsible for illegal checkpoints, house searches and vigilante justice against former Ba’ath Party members and those deemed to have flouted Islamic customs. They are rarely seen armed, but their black-shirted presence around government buildings is common.

British forces have controlled the groups’ worse excesses, but are reluctant to curb them. Clashes between troops and Thar’Allah two weeks ago led to the coalition apologising to the group and returning its weapons.

«We are not in the business of charging around arresting people. It’s up to the Iraqis to decide how they want to govern themselves,» said one British officer.

The problem of militia groups has been exacerbated by an Iraqi police force that openly expresses its admiration for them. Basra’s deputy police chief, Nasar Dimitry, said: «We share the same views as they do and they help us with security.»

In the short term the rise to power of radical Islamic groups threatens to lead to greater conflict with coalition forces despite the progress being made in restoring basic public services.

In the long term the ability of these groups to shout louder than Basra’s small, secular middle class bodes ill for building democratic institutions.

At Basra University, security officers joined militiamen in vetting students. «They are coercing women into wearing the veil,» said one female student. «Basra used to be a modern city. It will never be the same again.»

Islamic groups’ rise may lead to greater conflictBy Jack Fairweather
(Filed: 07/04/2004)

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