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Friday, April 25, 2008

Basra Comes to Life

A Times Online journalist goes to Basra and reports that a city once fearful and scared of the militia that threatened and killed indiscriminately, is now a city alive with activity where bands are performing at wedding parties, women are wearing jeans and young people are afraid to attend school and are looking forward to it.

When al-Maliki decided to crackdown on the al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra, many criticized him and reported every problem that happened, every death , every moment of the battle as if a battle happens with no fighting.

Now, weeks later, things have changed for Basra and the people who live there and they are happy with the changes.

Not long ago we quoted Basra residents saying they finally felt secure because of the Iraqi security forces presence and today we see things are looking up and Basra has, indeed, turned a corner.

Yet after three years of being terrified of kidnap, rape and murder – a fate that befell scores of other women – Nadyia Ahmed, 22, is among those enjoying a sense of normality, happy for the first time to attend her science course at Basra University. “I now have the university life that I heard of at high school before the war and always dreamt about,” she told The Times. “It was a nightmare because of these militiamen. I only attended class three days a week but now I look forward to going every day.”

She also no longer has to wear a headscarf. Under the strict Islamic rules imposed by the militias, women had to cover their hair, could not wear jeans or bright clothes and were strictly forbidden from sitting next to male colleagues on pain of death.

“All these men in black [who imposed the laws] just vanished from the university after this operation,” said Ms Ahmed. “Things have completely changed over the past week.”

Read the whole thing.

This has been a turning point, but not just for Basra, but for Maliki as well. He has shown that once he determined that with US and coalition help, his security forces were capable of taking Basra back and giving it to the residents instead of the murdering thugs that has controlled the area for so long, he was capable of making the decision, implementing it, and winning a very important battle.

One many doubted he or his Army was ready for, yet they did it.

They had their problems along the way but by any definition of success, Maliki was successful.

For the first time in four years local residents have been emboldened to stand up to the militants and are turning in caches of weapons. Army checkpoints have been erected across Basra and traffic police are also out in force.

The security forces have also torn down many banners supporting al-Mahdi Army as well as portraits of its leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, though some still remain in militia strongholds.

The contrast could not be more stark with the last time The Times visited Basra in December, when intimidation was rife.

The militias aka the men in black, have vanished and Basra has come to life and the residents of Basra have no intention of letting those men in black back into their town to rule.

Basra has chosen freedom, liberty and happiness.