Christians in Basra told not to celebrate

By LEILA FADEL AND ALI AL-BASRI / McClatchy Newspapers
The Christian archbishop of Basra on Tuesday canceled the celebration of Christmas in that southern city to protest the deaths of a brother and sister, both Christians, as bombings and mayhem struck at cities throughout Iraq.

Archbishop Imad al-Banna said Christians in Basra should still pray to mark Christmas, but should forgo such celebratory trappings as trees, gift-swapping and family gatherings to protest the deaths of Maysoon Farid, a 30-year-old cashier at a local pharmacy, and her brother Osama, 33. The two were found dead Monday night, dumped in a neighborhood controlled by the Shiite Muslim Mahdi Army militia.

Meanwhile, two police officers in Baghdad were killed by a car bomb that struck near the homes of two prominent politicians, while south of Fallujah, in the west, family members mourned a 9-year-old girl who they said was killed by U.S. troops.

A friend of Maysoon Farid, Jassim al-Mousawi, said Osama was kidnapped around noon on Monday. The kidnapper then used Osama’s phone to contact Maysoon and demanded that she meet with him to win her brother’s release, Mousawi said. She left to meet the kidnapper. Their bodies were found Monday night, morgue workers and police said, in a poor neighborhood in downtown Basra.

There was no claim of responsibility, but Amal Fuad, 52, who said she was a relative and attended their funeral at Mary Afram Catholic Church, said she was certain that the pair’s religion was the reason for their deaths. The killings, she said, were intended to make Christians live in fear “until they leave.”

The Baghdad bombing happened about 20 yards from the home of a Sunni legislator, Saleh al-Mutlaq, and about 400 yards from the home of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Police said the car that exploded was driven by a dapperly dressed man who passed unchallenged through a checkpoint leading into a neighborhood where many Iraqi officials live, just outside the Green Zone. At a second checkpoint, guards asked him for identification, but he sped forward and detonated the car, killing two police officers, al-Mutlaq said.

The blast destroyed two trailers that al-Mutlaq’s security detail used and shattered the windows in al-Mutlaq’s house.

U.S. officials in Baghdad said they were aware of an operation in Sicher, south of Fallujah, but had no information about the death of Hadil Walid Majed Mitaab, 9, who family members said was in a house with her mother when U.S. and Iraq troops attacked at about 2:30 a.m.

With helicopters flying overhead, the U.S. and Iraqi troops blasted away the doors of two houses and opened fire on a third, which is where Hadil was, family members said. Police and relatives said a bullet pierced Hadil’s neck, and she bled to death in her mother’s arms.

A McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent visited the house on Tuesday afternoon and watched as a U.S. soldier took bloodied carpet and a small shirt stained with blood from the room where Hadil died. Her father, Walid Majed Mitaab, sat silently among men paying their condolences in one of the partially destroyed houses. Mitaab said a U.S. soldier apologized to him through a translator.

Family members said they didn’t understand why troops had raided the area, which they said had been clear of al-Qaida in Iraq since residents in the area had turned on the group earlier in the year. Three men were detained in the raid, they said.

“We don’t have weapons; we don’t have anything,” Hadil’s mother, Suheila Hammad, said. “We said, `Thank God things are getting better,’ and now they are getting worse again.”

Ali Abbass Ali, a local police officer who was doing the overnight shift at the police station about 60 yards away, said no one shot at the soldiers before they began shooting.

(Fadel reported from Baghdad; Basri, a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent, reported from Basra. Contributing to this report were special correspondents Hussein Kadhim in Baghdad and Jamal al Dulaimy in Sicher.)

(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.