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Picnic Is No Party In the New Basra

The night of the confrontation, word of a protest went out, and the following morning about 150 students gathered at the engineering college, itself divided between secular and religious students. Their numbers swelling as they went, they made their way to the president's office and issued their demands: no work for the Islamic groups on campus, an official apology, punishment of the militiamen, return of stolen property, disbandment of the much-feared security committees that act as morality police in each university department and their replacement with Iraqi army troops.

Students vowed to remain on strike until the demands were met. Classes were canceled.


Mohammed Musabah, Basra's newly appointed governor, has said of students' grievances, "The issue is settled." (Anthony Shadid -- The Washington Post)

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The next day, the students convened again. This time, they said, they planned to head to the governor's office. Police tried to block their path, firing shots into the air at the gate, but they managed to leave through another exit in 15 school buses. Once at the governor's office, they found hundreds of students from smaller colleges and a few high schools already gathered. Inside, the governor met with members of the city council and the Sadr movement, student representatives and school officials.

Two hours later, students recalled, Mohammed Abadi, the president of the city council, emerged. The students' demands would be met, he declared. He read a text from a microphone mounted on a police car outside the office, going over each demand.

"We will compensate what was lost," students recalled Abadi saying.

"What was stolen!" someone shouted from the crowd, correcting Abadi.

Following Abadi's statement, city officials and Sadr's movement treated the matter as closed.

"The issue is settled," said Mohammed Musabah, who took over as governor of Basra the day of the melee. He acknowledged that police had not arrested anyone, as students had demanded. But, he said in an interview, "We spoke with them in a stern tone. Both sides wanted to resolve it by way of dialogue."

Few students this week said they were thinking about dialogue. Nor did they seem to believe their demands had been met.

Saeed said that as he passed out leaflets during the protests, a student sympathetic to Moqtada Sadr tapped his shoulder. "Be careful," he said he was told menacingly. On the wall at the campus gate, scrawled in black, graffiti reads, "Basra remains Moqtada's Basra."

"For a moment, we felt the strength of our voices," Saeed said. "We were making up our own minds."

But, he added, "You can see on campus that students are still scared to speak."


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