BASRA, Iraq -- The brutal crimes struck a nerve, even in a
country that has seen a horrific amount of bloodshed in the past decade:
Young Iraqi girls kidnapped, repeatedly raped and then bludgeoned to
death in two separate incidents near the southern city of Basra.
a conviction in one case, a handful of arrests in the other and beefed
up police patrols in the city, families in Basra remain on edge
following the murders of 4-year-old Banin Haider and 5-year-old Abeer
Ali in a span of less than two months.
Now, many parents in and
around the city won't let their children go to school alone or even play
outside after class is out, fearing their daughters, too, could be
snatched off the streets, sexually abused and murdered. Others are
making plans to leave Basra altogether, saying they have lost confidence
in the security forces' ability to keep children safe.
inhuman crimes make me think of the safety of my children," said Hazim
Sharif, 38, a government employee and father of four. "I do not trust
the security forces any more. I have to protect my family by myself."
many in Iraq, the murders mark a new, more menacing type of violence
than the country has previously encountered - at least in public.
Iraq's second-largest city, is considerably safer than Baghdad, and the
recent attacks are seen as a particularly dark spot on an otherwise
relatively quiet and stable province. The city of about 1 million and
its surrounding province, which goes by the same name, is Iraq's main
oil industry hub. The region is generally poorer and shabbier than the
capital, but it is slowly beginning to flourish as international
companies move in, attracted by the region's lucrative oil fields.
police chief Maj. Gen. Faisal al-Ibadi and the head of the security
committee in nearby Zubair, Mahdi Rikan, provided detailed accounts of
the two cases to The Associated Press.
Banin was kidnapped Aug. 16
in Zubair, a rundown town just outside the city of Basra. Her family,
from the nearby province of Dhi Qar, had come to town to visit
Police later found her body in a derelict area with her
hands and legs bound. She was raped multiple times, and her head was
smashed by what was believed to be a large brick, according to
An off-duty soldier assigned to a nearby army base,
Akram al-Mayahi, was arrested in connection with the Banin's murder. He
was found guilty on Oct. 22 and sentenced to death for abusing and
killing the girl, said judge Jassim al-Moussawi, the spokesman for the
Basra Federal Appeals Court.
Banin's family wants al-Mayahi to be
executed publically at the scene of the crime as a deterrent, al-Ibadi
said. The sentence has yet to be carried out.
The other young
girl, Abeer, also came from Dhi Qar province, a relatively poor part of
Iraq that many residents travel from in search of work, often for weeks
at a time. She was abducted Oct. 11 while her family attended a wedding
not far from the scene of Banin's murder.
Her body was found 12
hours later in an empty lot, bearing similar signs of trauma to the
previous victim, though Abeer was also strangled with a shoelace,
Authorities later determined that the suspected
kidnapper phoned nine friends and invited them to take part in the rape.
So far, eight people have been arrested and have confessed. The case
has yet to go to trial because the investigation is still under way.
Authorities believe the soldier convicted in Banin's killing is not
connected to Abeer's murder.
"I cannot rest or sleep while these
criminals are still eating, drinking and sleeping in prison. They should
be executed immediately," said Abeer's father, Ali Abid, a 30-year-old
construction worker and father of four other daughters. "Iraq has become
like a jungle where monsters maul the bodies of the poor people."
Reports of the two cases have sent a wave of fear through the streets of Basra.
Khudier, 42, a businessman in Zubair, stopped sending his daughter
Shahad to kindergarten out of fear she could be abducted. In the
meantime, he has hired a taxi driven by a trusted relative to take his
two older children to school even though it is nearby.
father of four, said he and his wife have begun escorting their children
to school and back, and are keeping a closer eye on them even when they
play just outside the house. Most parents in Basra are now doing the
same, he added.
"They keep ... insisting on going out to play with
their friends, but we have to remind them of the horrific story of the
two poor girls," Sharif said.
In an attempt to calm public opinion, security forces have started deploying more police patrols, particularly near schools.
officials blame a rise in drug use for the crimes. Iraq's Interior
Ministry recently cited the cases in calling on Iraqis to support an
anti-narcotics campaign. Al-Ibadi said all of those arrested in the two
cases are addicts who were under the influence at the time of the
Fawzia A. al-Attia, a sociologist at Baghdad University,
said Iraq's decades of war and economic hardship also likely played a
"All these woes changed the social value system, weakened
the role of the family and negatively influenced personality
development," she said. "Young people in particular have started to
feel the emptiness and boredom of unemployment, and (are increasingly
disappointed) with religious and political institutions."
Basra residents see the focus on drugs as misplaced. They instead
criticize Iraq's government and security forces for failing to provide
Abid said blaming his daughter's killers'
actions on drugs is just a way for the authorities to justify poor
policing, saying that all the security forces care "about is the salary
they get at the end of the month."