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Basra bleeds and boils over

Basra, Aug. 10 (Reuters): A tense calm settled over Basra late today after a second day of violence in which one Iraqi and a Nepalese Gurkha security officer were killed as crowds attacked vehicles and blocked streets with burning tyres.

British troops in Iraq’s second city fired warning shots and patrolled in tanks as hundreds of Iraqis went on the rampage to protest against fuel and power shortages.

The violence was some of the worst in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was toppled by US-led forces on April 9 and occurred in a city at the heart of the mostly Shia south, which has been relatively peaceful since Saddam was ousted. Iraq’s Shia majority was repressed under Saddam.

Southern Iraq’s British-run administration said the Gurkha security officer was killed by Iraqi gunmen. The man, who worked for private security contractor Global Security, was in a vehicle delivering mail for the UN. Reporters in Basra said the dead Iraqi was killed by gunfire. It was not immediately clear who had fired the shots in a city, which like the rest of Iraq, is awash with weapons. Two other Iraqis were wounded by gunfire.

Young Iraqi men hurled chunks of concrete at vehicles, while British armoured vehicles guarded petrol stations where increasingly frustrated drivers queued for hours as temperatures in Basra soared above 50 Celsius.

The British have blamed oil smugglers, looters and saboteurs for power cuts and a shortage of diesel that has meant little electricity even for those with household generators.

“(The British) did not give us what they promised, and we have had enough of waiting,” said student Hassan Jasim, 19.

Influential clerics, some of whom want an Iranian-style Shia theocracy, have warned the British and Americans they are impatient for the running of the country to be returned to Iraqis.

In a repeat of some of the violence yesterday, cars from nearby Kuwait were targeted. Basra residents accuse Kuwaitis of involvement in smuggling cheap Iraqi oil out of the country.

Two US soldiers and a journalist were wounded in a grenade attack in Baghdad today, a US military spokesperson said. Al Jazeera television said one of its cameramen was hurt along with US soldiers when a grenade was thrown at a US patrol from an upper storey window at Baghdad University.

Iraq militants

Paul Bremer, top US civilian administrator in Iraq, said hundreds of fighters from Ansar al-Islam, an al Qaida-linked group once based in the Kurdish-controlled north during Saddam’s reign, now planned major attacks in Iraq.

Bremer, an anti-terrorism expert, told the New York Times that Thursday’s bombing could have been the work either of Saddam loyalists or a mainly foreign group like Ansar.

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