“Islamist Militias Patrolling Basra” from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, with thanks to Saturnine:
BASRA, Iraq — Sheikh Assad al-Basri says there’s no need to worry that he and his Islamist militiamen might recreate a repressive Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq.
That’s because the Islamic Republic of Iran is far too liberal, according to Basri, the leading local representative of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
“Only 5 percent of Iranians abide by real Islamic laws,” said Basri, who boasts that he and his cohorts already have blown up most of Basra’s liquor stores, punished “decadent picnickers” and imposed Islamic dress codes on women. “The rest of Iranians are corrupt. Look, there are drugs and girls who don’t wear hijab [covering] well in Iran.”
Iraq’s new Shiite-led national government vows it will respect and tolerate all of the country’s religious and ethnic groups and will create a model democratic constitution for a region gripped by Islamic fervor.
But on the streets of this once-liberal port city — which years ago featured a row of casinos and bars along its waterfront — Islamist militias already have begun imposing a harsh version of Islamic law that has shocked many residents.
“They have managed to impose a republic of fear,” said Yasser Qassim, a local journalist who publishes stories under a pen name out of fear for his safety.
Moderate Islamists — which include Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari’s Dawa Party — won 37 of 41 local council seats during the Jan. 30 elections, with secular former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s party getting only four…
Basri claimed 12,000 local Sadr militiamen have been trained for combat and “are ready to mobilize in case of a crisis.” Residents say they already are mobilized…
“They are everywhere,” said Muhamad Nassir, a physician who heads Basra Maternity and Pediatric Hospital. “Some of them recently visited our hospital to try to convince us to forbid male doctors from curing female patients.”
His colleagues from a nearby hospital — renamed Sadr Hospital after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime– complained that Sadr’s followers have hung posters of the young cleric inside the wards.
“They watch us,” said one doctor, who requested anonymity to protect his safety. “I have received a few death threats. I am afraid to talk. To protect myself, I bought a pistol, which I hide under my shirt.”
Basra officials concede the militiamen are creating problems, but they are hesitant to crack down.
“We are going through a sensitive time and we must be cautious and careful,” said Muhamad Saadoun al-Ebaadi, the chief of the new provincial council and a member of a moderate Islamist group.
Fear is palpable on the streets. One day three months ago, a female student from Basra University’s college of sciences was ordered to cover her hair. She refused to comply. Three days later she was found dead on the road to her house, said her classmates and professors…