Famous across Iraq for their sea shanties, musicians in southern Iraq's Basra port, who have endured conflict and poverty under the 12 years of sanctions, are facing a new threat from Shia radicals who want to silence their instruments.  

 

Grenade attacks blamed on Shia extremists have already targeted the cluster of shops crammed with drums, lutes and trumpets in the backstreets of old Basra's Summar district, where musicians meet to practise and take bookings.

 

The Iraqi musician Muhammad Salih said the Iraqi music style was a national treasure that should be preserved: "The Basra music style is the most wonderful in the area. We hoped that it would stand a better chance now of being heard by people who love it, even outside Iraq. The Iraqi music style in general is a national treasure that should be preserved," Salih said.

 

Musicians cannot play during the
fasting month of Ramadan 

Clubs shut

 

Concert halls and clubs in the city have also been shuttered by Shia religious leaders in the city, flexing their muscles after years of being held back by successive secular governments in Iraq.

  

"Two weeks ago, someone threw a hand grenade at my shop," said Nasrat Nasir, as he cleaned his battered old trumpet, largely held together with sticky tape. "The situation is very unstable and we feel restricted."

  

Denied public performances, Nasir's 15-man band Al-Surur (Happiness) and about 130 other singers and musicians in Basra must now rely for business on weddings and birthday parties held in private homes.

 

Adnan Yahya, head of the Iraqi Music Group in Dubai, told Aljazeera.net Iraqi musicians should have the chance to play.

 

"They should have the freedom to perform in front of larger audiences inside and outside Iraq. Iraqi music is wanted all over the region. They should be encouraged not suppressed. We hope that authorities in Iraq will protect Iraqi musicians."

 

True believers

 

Musicians say being artists does not mean they are not committed to their religion, as some extremists think.

 

 "We are still Muslims. We believe in God and the prophet, we

believe in Islam and respect the shrines and holy men - we even lend our public address systems for mosques to broadcast prayers," said lute player and singer Wagoud Ali.

 

"We also respect the holy months. During the Ramadan fast and other periods we earn no money as we cannot play."

 

"The Iraqi music style in general is a national treasure that should be preserved"

Muhammad Salih,
Iraqi musician

Since the occupation of Iraq, Shia confidence has been steadily increasing. Mass protests organised by senior Shia clerics have prompted the United Nations to investigate calls by the Iranian Shia cleric Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani - based in Najaf - for snap polls to replace US power-transfer plans.

 

The Shia political groups have taken much of the credit for

maintaining law and order, with several deploying their own militias to deter criminals and ensure the will of the newly-powerful clerics.

 

Abd Allah al-Faisal, general secretary of the Organisation of

Islamic Bases, one of the most feared Shia political militia

groups in Basra, denied that intimidation tactics were being used, blaming "enemies of Iraq" for attacks on musicians and minority Christian alcohol vendors.

 

Iraqi Music Websites

www.iraqimusic.com

www.iraqiart.com

"As Muslims we refuse to accept certain things, but we respect that Christians and others should have their freedoms. Anyone who needs our help, they can call on us at any time." Al-Faisal said.