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."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform