Child rapes, killings terrify parents in Iraq

Child rapes

The brutal crimes struck a nerve, even in a country that has seen a horrific amount of bloodshed in the past decade: Young Iraqi girls kidnapped, repeatedly raped and then bludgeoned to death in two separate incidents near the southern city of Basra.

Despite a conviction in one case, a handful of arrests in the other and beefed up police patrols in the city, families in Basra remain on edge following the murders of 4-year-old Banin Haider and 5-year-old Abeer Ali in a span of less than two months.

Now, many parents in and around the city won't let their children go to school alone or even play outside after class is out, fearing their daughters, too, could be snatched off the streets, sexually abused and murdered. Others are making plans to leave Basra altogether, saying they have lost confidence in the security forces' ability to keep children safe.

``These inhuman crimes make me think of the safety of my children,'' said Hazim Sharif, 38, a government employee and father of four. ``I do not trust the security forces any more. I have to protect my family by myself.''

To many in Iraq, the murders mark a new, more menacing type of violence than the country has previously encountered _ at least in public.

Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, is considerably safer than Baghdad, and the recent attacks are seen as a particularly dark spot on an otherwise relatively quiet and stable province. The city of about 1 million and its surrounding province, which goes by the same name, is Iraq's main oil industry hub. The region is generally poorer and shabbier than the capital, but it is slowly beginning to flourish as international companies move in, attracted by the region's lucrative oil fields.

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