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Police chief in Iraq's Basra suspended - governor

Written by: Staff
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BASRA, Iraq, May 13 (Reuters) The governor of the oil-rich southern Iraqi province of Basra today said he suspended its chief of police, accusing the force of failing to take action against violence sweeping Iraq's second city.

Security has deteriorated sharply over the past year as rival Shi'ite Muslim groups tussle for power.

Governor Mohammed al-Waeli belongs to a junior member of Iraq's dominant but fractious Shi'ite Alliance bloc.

Iraq has also suffered soaring religious and ethnic violence since the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad.

Basra, in Iraq's south and patrolled by British forces, has seen killings of senior figures from the once-dominant Sunni minority, including the shooting of a senior cleric on Friday.

But there is also violence within the Shi'ite community.

''It is strange that police in Basra did not conduct any serious investigation into the wave of assassinations that took place in Basra recently,'' Waeli told a news conference after meeting tribal leaders.

He said he had referred an order to dismiss the police chief, Major-General Hassan Swadi, to Basra's governing provincial council.

Waeli also accused army officers of links with criminal figures, and called on Iraq's Defence Ministry to remove the commander of the Basra-based 10th Division, Major-General Abdullatif Taaban ''for lacking efficiency''.

''SABOTAGE'' Yesterday, a gunman killed a senior Sunni cleric after he left his mosque following prayers in the city, a Sunni religious official said. Khalil Jaber was at least the second prominent Sunni cleric assassinated in the Basra region in as many days, Shaker Mahmoud of the Sunni Endowment said.

Governor Waeli is a leading member of Fadhila, or Virtue party, a small but influential member of the ruling United Alliance, an 18-party Shi'ite Islamist bloc.

Waeli also said he had information that ''sabotage groups'' -- some coming from outside Iraq -- planned ''action'' against provincial institutions aimed at spreading chaos, suggesting they had links with political groups.

He was speaking a week after a British helicopter crashed in Basra, possibly hit by a rocket, and troops clashed with rioters at the scene, in the worst violence in the city since Saddam Hussein fell in 2003.

British forces in Basra have been isolated since the regional government broke off all contact in February. Local authorities finally lifted the ban last week.

REUTERS SY VC2020

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