Iraq News

Basra musicians shrug off extremist threats

By Alaa Hussain in Baghdad

The Basra National Folklore Ensemble, led by prominent Basra musician Saad al-Yabes. [Photo courtesy of Saad al-Yabes Facebook page]

The Basra National Folklore Ensemble, led by prominent Basra musician Saad al-Yabes. [Photo courtesy of Saad al-Yabes Facebook page]

Local activists have raised the alarm about a written threat to musicians in Basra province that vows to kill local concert organisers.

But the threat, which has been circulating on social media, has been met with derision by Basra's arts community, while security authorities say the incident is an isolated case that it has under control.

The leaflets threatened a mall in Basra where a concert had been scheduled.

In an interview with the Baghdad Today website, folk artist Abdullah al-Basri said he and members of his ensemble had received a death threat from a group calling itself the "Group for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice".

Al-Basri said he had found a bullet wrapped in paper at the front door of his home in central Basra's Khamsa Meel district, which contained a threat and Qur'anic verses on the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice.

No cause for alarm

Basra provincial council security committee member Jabbar a-Saadi downplayed the seriousness of the threats, saying they do not deserve much attention.

"They are merely individual acts aimed at confusing the security situation in the province, and are not serious enough to pose a real concern," he told Diyaruna.

Security and intelligence agencies take serious interest in following up on such cases, and recently have been able to apprehend 12 individuals accused of using stun grenades to settle personal disputes and frighten people, he said.

A number of the detainees had been members of local political parties in the past, he noted, but these parties said their membership had been revoked a long time ago, and accused them of wrongfully using the parties as cover.

"Basra is safe and cannot be destabilised by individuals who are ostracized by everyone," he said, adding that all residents are able to engage in their artistic, cultural and recreational activities freely.

Artists scoff at threats

Former head of the Basra Artists Union Fathi Shaddad scoffed at the threats, which he said could only find "virtual space" on social media and had no impact on the ground.

He told Diyaruna there are no real threats against artists in Basra from any side, and praised the role of the Basra Operations Command and security forces in maintaining security and controlling the situation.

Shaddad acknowledged there are some "malicious" parties that are trying to muddle the situation in Basra by raising allegations of terror threats to undermine the good relationship between artists and security agencies in the province.

"Art in Basra will not be suppressed in reaction to random threats," he said, noting that the artists' union is preparing to hold the province's largest film festival.

In his eyes, he said, this presents sufficient proof that "Basra will not halt its artistic activities and will continue to create and shine".

Basra Artists Union member Kazem Kazzar told Diyaruna local artists will continue to perform their music and hold cultural festivals, which are held with the knowledge of the local authorities and are attended by large audiences.

All these activities are sensitive to public decency and are not offensive, he said, stressing at the same time that the union will not allow anyone to give art in the province a bad name.

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