Iraqi violence hits new peak for British troops

The bombing in the early hours of yesterday was just the latest example of the violence sweeping through British-run Shia southern Iraq which, until recently, was held up as a haven of peace and stability compared to the mayhem in Sunni areas.

The target yesterday was Hassan al-Rashid, former governor of Basra and the current strongman of the Iranian- supported Badr Brigade. But the British military, too, are very much in the firing line in what they say is the most dangerous period they have faced since the war, with attacks taking place weekly. Particularly lethal had been a new type of infra-red roadside bombs which have killed eight British soldiers and which, the British government claims, were supplied to Shia fighters by Iran.

The British military has taken measures to combat the devices. But, according to diplomatic sources, the militia too are trying to adapt their tactics.

Most of the attacks, however, are by rockets and mortars and launched from some distance away.

Standing on the top of the control tower at Basra aiport, the commander Group captain Ian Wood points to an area with several stationary aircraft "That's where we had machine gun fire yesterday, that's where some rockets went over yesterday as well. There is no doubt we have seen a steady rise in violence over the recent period as we approach some pretty important matters like Saddam Hussein's trial and then there is, of course, the referendum."

One of the reasons the airport is being attacked is that it will be the place where the ballot papers for the referendum will be delivered. The British base where the media are gathering to cover the vote was also hit by mortar fire at the weekend.

The referendum is bitterly contentious. It will pave the way for a federal constitution that the Shia believe will give them political and economic power for the first time in 100 years, and the Sunnis bitterly complaining that, in reality, it will lead to the break-up of the country.

With the recriminations has come an upsurge in bombings and shootings, much of it sectarian, shocking even by the anarchic standards of post-war Iraq.

The Iraqi government asked the populace yesterday to defy the insurgents who had called for a boycott. The insurgents have also warned that those who vote will suffer.

"These insurgents are like rats spreading plague among the people," said government spokesman Laith Kuba. "Rats are very small, but the disease they spread is horrible. Iraq should get rid of these dirty rats."

However, Mr Kuba also acknowledged that more than 500 corpses have been found in Iraq since its interim government was formed April. About 320 others have been killed in a wave of suicide bombings, roadside blasts, drive-by shootings and beheadings. "Combating the killing of innocent civilians is now the nation's number one challenge", he said.

Two US soldiers were killed at the weekend in western Iraq, bringing to eight the number of American fatalities in a series of offensives the US and Iraqi forces have launched against insurgents in preparation for the referendum.

A "yes" vote in the referendum and the subsequent federal constitution will lead to a fundamental shift of power to the Shia south with its lucrative oilwells. And, with the high stakes involved, the region is now an amphitheatre for heavily armed militias fighting each other as well as the British forces.

It was unclear last night who was responsible for the attempt to kill Mr al-Rashid, whose Badr Brigade is the military wing of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, (SCIRI), the largest Shia party in the government.

The Jordanian-born leader of the Sunni group al-Qa'ida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has threatened to "eradicate"the "apostates" of the Badr Brigade. But Badr fighters have also been skirmishing with the al-Mehdi Army led by the radical Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.

Adding to the combustible mix is the shadowy Jameat organisation, a group with several hundred police officers among its members, who are accused of running death squads and who recently held two British special forces soldiers - an act which led to a British rescue mission.

Men in police uniforms have been responsible for the murders of a number of journalists, including American Stephen Vincent.

Sunnis complain that in the south they are the victims of ethnic killings.

Sheikh Abdul Karim al-Dosari, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said " Every week, there are one or two incidents where the police come to arrest people and then we find their bodies."

The Shia also complain of kidnapping and extortion. A Basra businessman, Hakim, said " They say they are policemen and they come and demand money, we know they are connected to the militias.

"They are policemen but they kill people. The British must bear much blame, they let these people into the police and then for a long time did nothing."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map