Monday, June 23, 2008

Freed of militias, Basra has new problems

BASRA, Iraq - Men and women can openly study and party together for the first time in years at Basra University, free from the threat of Shiite gunmen enforcing extreme Islamic views.

To get to class, however, the students must navigate traffic jams and ubiquitous checkpoints that the Iraqi military calls the price of peace in this sweltering, oil-rich southern city where temperatures soar above 120 degrees.

It often doesn't get any cooler indoors. Basra is suffering widespread electricity shortages that residents blame on Iraqi authorities, who in turn point the finger at neighboring Iran. And then there's the lack of clean tap water.

From students to merchants, people here say they are happy and hopeful about their new freedoms three months after the Iraqi military wrested control of the country's second-largest city from Shiite militiamen. But frustration is rising over the failure of the Iraqi government to follow through on its promises to improve basic services, provide jobs and distribute enough food to citizens.

"The government gives us food rations, but it is not enough. We are all tired," Chitaya Mashhan Madloon said as she pushed through the crowd at a market, using her black robe to wipe sweat from her forehead.

Many worry the neglect could ignite more violence.

"The services are getting worse, they're not getting better. This is creating ill will toward the government," said Mustafa Mahdi Hussein, the dean of Basra University's college of administration and economics.

Hussein said unemployment posed a security risk because idle young men are vulnerable to militia recruitment.

"We need to give them work to do. You can't just keep expanding the military operations. If you talk to anybody, they just want three things, electricity, water and safety," he added during a recent interview in his office..........

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