Ex-Gurkha killed in ambush as more riots flare in Basra

Click to follow
The Independent Online

British soldiers fought to control rioting Iraqis in the southern city of Basra for the second day running yesterday. At least one Iraqi protester was shot dead, but in the chaos in the city nobody could tell who killed him. A Nepalese former gurkha working for a private security firm was shot dead in an ambush by Iraqi gunmen.

Masked men claiming to represent an Iraqi resistance group appeared in a video shown on al-Jazeera television holding rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs) and vowed: "We will make the whole land of Iraq a graveyard to all those villain invaders."

The unrest in Basra is some of the worst the British have faced since the US President, George Bush, declared the war over. While American soldiers have faced daily attacks by RPGs and explosives in the rest of the country, in the south things have been generally quieter for the British.

But the violence which seethed on the streets of Basra yesterday was not orchestrated by the resistance, it appears. Rather it was ordinary Iraqis who took to the streets in fury at constant power cuts and acute fuel shortages. With temperatures above 50C (122F), Iraqis desperately need electricity to power their air conditioners.

The country is suffering from severe power cuts, which have done nothing to make the Americans and British popular. But in Basra they have been severely exacerbated after a local power station was attacked - it is not clear by whom - and put out of action.

When the mains go off, Iraqis turn to generators. But they need fuel for these and, incredibly in a country with Iraq's vast oil reserves, there is a severe fuel shortage.

British troops and tanks were guarding petrol stations from enraged protesters yesterday. Many in Basra were blaming Kuwait, accusing the country, which sided with the Americans during the invasion of Iraq, of stealing Iraqi oil.

About 1,000 Iraqis took to the streets of Basra, according to the British Army. Angry crowds gathered around cars and demanded to know if there were Kuwaitis inside. Elsewhere, they set up barricades of burning tyres. In scenes reminiscent of the West Bank, they threw stones at passing trucks and cars.

Reporters in the city saw an injured man being carried out of a schoolbus, its windows shattered by stones.

The former gurkha was shot dead after his car was ambushed in Basra as he delivered mail for the United Nations. He was working privately for the company Global Security. Many Nepalese former gurkhas work for private security firms in Iraq.

In what the British Army said was a "separate incident", British soldiers came under attack and returned fire.

Arab commentators suggestedthe British may now be feeling a little of the heat the Americans have been facing in Baghdad. But this is by no means an organised Shia resistance, yet. Shia religious leaders have still not issued any fatwas calling for resistance: yesterday's riots were enraged people taking their anger on to the streets. If the Shia start resisting in earnest, it could get a lot worse.

But Iraq's Sunni resistance has already started. The resistance fighters who appeared in the video shown on al-Jazeera yesterday, their faces swathed in red-chequered keffiyehs, insisted they were not supporters of Saddam Hussein. "We are ready to give our sons' lives," one of them read out in a statement. "The Baathists [Saddam's regime] were not ready to give their sons' lives to defend the country, to defend Baghdad. How can they talk about resistance?"

Next to him sat another man with a Kalashnikov, and behind them stood two fighters with RPG launchers.

A number of resistance groups have emerged. While some support the deposed Iraqi leader, other Sunni Islamist groups do not and there has been squabbling between the factions.

Attacks on the occupation forces continued yesterday. Two American soldiers were injured in an attack in Tikrit. Two more American soldiers and an Arab journalist for al-Jazeera were also wounded in a grenade attack in Baghdad.

Comments