- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

BASRA, Iraq — Rival criminal gangs and tribal feuds, some going back further than Saddam Hussein’s two decades in power, are adding to the daily security threats to British forces in charge of this city of 1.3 million.

On average, shooting incidents occur 15 to 20 times every 24 hours, but most of them do not directly threaten coalition troops, said Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt, the British forces’ chief spokesman.

“Shootings between criminal gangs over who controls what are regular — remember that Saddam emptied the prisons months before the war,” Col. McCourt said in an interview.

“But much of it is tribal. Scores are being settled, a bit like what happened in Yugoslavia when [Marshal] Tito’s iron hand was removed.

“In the West, we tend to forgive and forget, and move on. Not here. The Arabs [in this area] have memories that go back generations — even before Saddam took power in some cases.”

Coalition troops have come under repeated attack, with 10 American soldiers killed since May 26. All of the attacks have been to the north of Baghdad or in the capital, in areas controlled by minority Sunni Muslims, who dominated Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.

Shi’ite Muslims dominate southern Iraq.

Col. McCourt said some fire has been directed at coalition forces in Basra.

“Very occasionally, they shoot at us,” he said. “We don’t just fire back, we go in hot pursuit and capture them, just as we did in Northern Ireland.”

He declined to give casualty figures of Iraqis or coalition forces in such clashes.

He also said there is evidence of deliberate subversion, but very seldom. “If there are political forces aligned against us, they would be very stupid to take us on actively. That would be fatal.”

Instead, he said he believed such forces would be biding their time.

“There are still elements out there who are using this interim period for their own purposes,” he said.

Officers at the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters confirmed they had seen a document from the Iraqi intelligence service obtained by The Washington Times and published Monday.

The document, written in January, orders agents to take up arms in a guerrilla war against coalition troops should Saddam’s regime fall.

U.S. officials declined to provide their analysis of the document, but said they received numerous documents purporting to be from the old regime and its security services or ministries.

In Basra, Saddam’s regime had been particularly severe.

“Without Saddam, the country is much better,” said Nirgiz Abul Jalil, 30, who teaches at a local school that was visited several days ago by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“We were treated very badly. Now, though, we have to say that the destruction of war was only small compared with the looting,” she said as she sat behind a high, locked, metal gate that protects her modest home.

In a nearby main street, robbers and their families, including many women and children, were selling all sorts of looted goods, including car and truck axles, right alongside a police station.

Inside, British military police are training and working with the old regime’s police officers.

“The biggest problem is getting these guys to take any initiative,” said one visiting British lawmaker, who asked not to be named.

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