2000 indigents in Basra rally demand help from Iraq's Maliki

Thousands in the city live in filthy slums, where children play and goats forage in refuse.

2000 indigents in Basra rally demand help from Iraq's Maliki

When Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki came to Basra to whip up votes for an upcoming election, it felt more like a giant cry for help from the southern oil city's desperate poor than a campaign rally.

About half the 2,000-strong crowd, some on crutches or in wheelchairs, surged against a human barrier of security men in a bid to make their pleas for assistance heard as Maliki concluded a speech, praising security gains and promising development.

"She's blind and has a mental problem, I went to Baghdad and got no help, we have nowhere left to turn to," said Abu Zahra, thrusting his daughter forward.

Maliki did not address the pleas personally, but sent his security guards to collect armfuls of files with letters begging for help, some with gory photos of injuries.

Although it sits atop most of Iraq's vast oil wealth, the once elegant city of Basra is largely decrepit now, strewn with waste and spotted with puddles of sewage.

Hardship and corruption

The crackdown won the prime minister wide praise across Iraq, but life in Basra is still hard and the prime minister's small Dawa Party may have difficulty winning support from potent rival Shi'ite groups that want more autonomy for the south.

"I have a brain tumour, I'm on crutches, but I cannot get any help or services," said Isaac Hussein, who was trying to hobble past guards to get to Maliki.

Faisal al-Aboud, pushing against the cordon, pleaded to tell Maliki about corruption: "I had to close my asphalt business because I couldn't afford to pay bribes to the police."

Thousands in the city live in filthy slums, where children play and goats forage in refuse. Recent rains formed noxious pools of mud around the corrugated iron shacks.

State food rations protect most Iraqis from the hunger suffered by many of the world's poor. But millions lack access to adequate health care, decent housing or clean water.

Basra is inundated with campaign posters featuring some 1,280 candidates for 35 seats in Jan. 31 elections to the provincial council. Many bear pictures of Maliki.

At the rally's end, a man ran carrying his disfigured school-aged son towards the prime minister, who was being led to his helicopter. The boy had twisted limbs and open weeping sores.

They made it through the cordon but were too late. The boy's tearful father dumped him back into his wheelchair, where the bawling boy tore up Maliki's election poster.

Reuters
Last Mod: 24 Ocak 2009, 15:14
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