Anger at Britain’s occupation of southern Iraq is growing, with Iraqis demanding that British troops halt all low level flights over neighbourhoods and withdraw all troops from the cities.
The demands have come in the wake of a helicopter crash in a Basra neighbourhood and the gunning down of five Iraqis by British troops.
The helicopter was shot down as it flew over the southern Iraqi city killing all five crew on board. About 300 locals pelted troops with stones and petrol bombs when soldiers tried to recover the bodies of the dead aircrew.
British troops reacted to the protests by opening fire on demonstrators. They killed five and wounded 28. Two children were among the dead.
Many statements were distributed in Basra on Sunday calling for the withdrawal of British troops.
One leaflet, signed by the Sons of Resistance in Basra, and circulated widely after the demonstration, stated, “We ask you [Britain] and your troops to withdraw to the outskirts of our city.”
The leaflet called on British forces to “halt all low level flights over our city”. It concluded, “If you do not stop such actions, the response will be harder than before, and we say to you—do not start a war against the people, as the rage of the people is more powerful than that of tyrants. We have warned you.”
Basra, Iraq’s southern oil city, had been held up as a model of successful occupation by British authorities. But many of the promises made in the wake of the 2003 invasion never materialised.
Life for ordinary people continues to deteriorate with sporadic electricity, rising prices and high unemployment.
British troops have been forced to use helicopters to travel between bases as they have become increasingly isolated from the local population.
Sunday’s confrontation was the latest in a series of bloody encounters with the British army. Last September local police arrested two SAS men disguised as members of the Mehdi Army, the organisation belonging to radial Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The soldiers were caught with a car load of weapons, including explosives. The Shias are fearful of bombs that have plagued their neighbourhoods, and demanded an explanation from British authorities.
The men were freed by British troops, and the Iraqi police station where they were held was bulldozed to the ground.
In response local authorities have cut all contact with the British army.
The deaths of the British soldiers last Saturday has brought the number of service personnel killed since the invasion in March 2003 to 109.
A statement from the Stop the War Coalition said, “How many more Iraqi, British and US deaths are to follow before the occupation of Iraq is brought to an end?
“The ministry of defence admit that they have no control in Basra and the surrounding region, that they are confined to barracks with only the occasional foray in helicopters since the roads are too dangerous.”