British Kill 6, Injure 11 in Amarah Unemployment Riots
Crowds gathered in Amara Saturday to protest continued joblessness and also to indicate their displeasure with the mayor of the city. Although the BBC calls him “elected,” few open elections have been permitted in Iraqi cities, which has caused protests in several of them in past months by factions opposed to the Coalition-installed officials. The Western press has tended not to cover these urban disturbances. (Amara, a largely Shiite city, many inhabitants of which have a recent tribal background, has a current estimated population of 362,000.)
The Amara demonstration got press today because the British accused some demonstrators of trying to toss grenades at them, and fired into the crowd as a result, along with local Iraqi police, causing 6 deaths and 11 injuries. (CNN reported this incident all day Saturday as having been one where “Iraqi police” fired at demonstrators–no mention of the British troops, about which the BBC is explicit. I don’t know whether it was just that they only had footage of the Iraqi police, and tailored the commentary to the footage, or whether Time Warner wants to de-emphasize the neocolonial aspect of all this.)
The unemployment rate in Iraq is hard to know, but many still peg it at 60%, a cause of deep dissatisfaction for Iraqis with rule by the US and its allies.
In Tikrit, US soldiers said they accidentally killed two Iraqi policemen, provoking further tensions between them and the Tikrit townspeople.
Amara, a major city in the south of Iraq, has been relatively quiet. It is the base of Interim Governing Council member Abd al-Karim Mahmoud al-Muhammadawi, leader of the Iraqi Hizbullah, a tribal militia (not connected to the Lebanese group of the same name). But there have been occasional disturbances in the south. On November 14, townspeople in nearby Samawa staged a riot against police corruption. On October 25 in Amarah, gunmen shot the Coalition-appointed police chief, Brig. Hamid Hadi Hassan al-Abe. In early October there were repeated unemployment riots in Baghdad and Basra.
In mid-August there were riots in Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah against the Coalition-appointed municipal councils.
The only thing I could find on short notice about Amara’s city council came from a Financial Times piece by Charles Clover from 6 September: “Sheikh Rahim, head of the town council of Amara, Iraq, decided it was time to show his western visitors who would be calling the shots from now on. As the British delegation took their seats at a recent town hall meeting, a loud demonstration against the coalition erupted. Resplendent in a white turban and blue robe, Mr Rahim raised his voice over the demonstrators, nodded to his 21 fellow council members, and began his sermon in exquisite Arabic. “The coalition has had a negative role from the beginning,” he said, beginning with a tirade against last Friday’s car bomb that killed scores in the nearby city of al Najaf. Notching his voice up another octave, he lamented the power shortages, the water shortages, the unemployment, the lack of security, the empty promises of George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and the United Nations. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the hurricane of invective finished. Mr Rahim paused, and looked a little embarrassed. “Pardon me, I didn’t catch your name. Who did you say you were with?” he asked. Sir Hilary Synnott, a balding, distinguished-looking British career diplomat, introduced himself through his translator. It was only his tenth day on the job as Britain’s chief civilian administrator for four southern provinces in Iraq, and the meeting was not going as planned. “I am here because I want to listen, but I also want to ask you some questions,” Sir Hilary’s voice boomed over the demonstration. “Everyone who comes here asks us questions,” scoffed Mr Rahim. “But here is a question for you: what has been built in the past five months on the basis of these questions?” . . . Sheikh Mohammed al Ibadi, a senior cleric from Amara, told Sir Hilary in the same meeting: “Mujaheddin who fought for 20 years against the former regime have been dumped from the security services and they have been usurped by Ba’athists. The town council needs to have the authority to reverse this situation.” . . .