News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqTossed from a car and shot in cold blood

Tossed from a car and shot in cold blood

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Sunday Times: It was just after 11pm and the shopkeeper was closing up for the night when a van screeched to a halt outside. The back doors flew open. “Someone inside threw a woman onto the street,” he said. “She was lying on the road but she was still alive. A man lent out and shot a machine-gun into her body.” The Sunday Times

Marie Colvin in Basra

IT WAS just after 11pm and the shopkeeper was closing up for the night when a van screeched to a halt outside. The back doors flew open. “Someone inside threw a woman onto the street,” he said. “She was lying on the road but she was still alive. A man lent out and shot a machine-gun into her body.”

As the van raced away, the shopkeeper ran over to her. She was aged 25 to 30 with long dark hair and was lying face up. “There was so much blood,” he said. “The police just took a photograph and put her in the back of a van.”

There have been 48 women killed in six months for “un-Islamic behaviour”. The murders in the teeming southern port of Basra have highlighted the weakness of the security forces and the strength of Islamic militias as Britain prepares to hand over control to Iraqi officials today.

In another case, two teenagers saw a woman beaten to death by five or six men from the Mahdi Army, Basra’s most powerful militia. One picked up a rock and crushed her skull. The teenagers were told that their home and family would be destroyed if they betrayed the killers.

Gordon Brown told the Commons last week that Iraq was now a democracy, that violence in Basra had fallen by 90% and that the Iraqis were “taking control over their own security”.

However, Major-General Jalil Khalaf, the police chief, said the city’s 28 militias were better armed than his men. “They control the ports which earns them huge sums of money” he said.

As well as skimming profits from oil exports, they were importing weapons from Iran.

“You could smuggle a tank across that border if you wanted to,” he added.

During four days of reporting independently in Basra – the first western journalist to do so for a British newspaper in almost two years – I met a Baghdad official who had come to investigate the port. He was abducted, tortured and freed only after a “gift” was promised to the kidnappers.

The objective of the UK forces in southern Iraq was to establish the security needed for political development and economic reconstruction. Major-General Graham Binns, the commander of British forces in Basra province, acknowledged that “we were unable to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people”.

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