Monday, January 05, 2004

The man from the South
First you have this.

In an attempt to justify the war before Lord Hutton's report later this month, the Prime Minister told servicemen and women that their help in transforming a dictatorship into a prosperous democracy meant they were the "new pioneers of 21st century soldiering".

Then you have this.

Reuters reports (via ash-Sharq al-Awsat 12/31) that 400 shops owned by Christians, whom Saddam had permitted to sell liquor, have been forced to close since April, as the Shiites have come to power politically (see below). Stores have been firebombed, and some Christian shopkeepers have been shot, it is said by radical Shiite groups with names like "The Revenge of God, Hizbullah, and the Organization of Islamic Rules." Their members appoint themselves vigilantes, patrolling the streets armed in search of criminals and drug dealers, and executing them on the spot. These Shiite militias have supporters on the local councils Christians complain that they have been forced out of the liquor market, but that in many cases Muslim merchants have stepped into the breach, making inroads into what had been a Christian monopoly.

Steven Farrell reports in the London Times (12/30) of Basra: "Many of the theatres and music halls where [musicians] used to play have been shut, or converted for use by the many new Islamic parties that claim to represent Iraq's Shia Muslims, the overwhelming majority in Basra. While ice-cream and electronics stores thrive, the fundamentalists have shut down all alcohol shops, aided by rocket-propelled grenades and the summary killing of liquorsellers. Video and CD stores have been closed or had their wares heavily censored. In one CD shop in central Basra, posters of Britney Spears have been taken down. In their place are speeches of ayatollahs, to appease the self-appointed moral guardians." He says that Shiite Islamist gangs have beaten up musicians returning from weddings...


And this.

Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist who was the son of an Iraqi police colonel, died in September, three days after he and seven colleagues were arrested and placed in military custody. His body was returned to his family covered in bruises and with his nose broken. They have refused $8,000 (£4,500) in compensation and plan to take the MoD to court.

I was cynical about whether British troops were really applying to Iraq what they learned in Northern Ireland, and it seems my cynicism was misplaced. More generally, it looks like the old British imperial practice of ensuirng peace in occupied territories by casting about for and backing a credible local strongman, or faction. This does have certain practical advantages, not least that it enables you to stage credible PR operations wihout having to make use of plastic turkeys.