Basra in fear after rape and murder of girls, 4 and 5
Families are leaving town and do not trust the ability of security forces to keep children safe
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 four-year-old Banin Haider and Abeer Ali, 5, 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, 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 police chief Major General Faisal al-Ibadi and the head of the security committee in nearby Zubair, Mahdi Rikan, provided detailed accounts of the two cases.
Banin was kidnapped on August 16 in Zubair, a rundown town just outside Basra. Her family, from the nearby southern province of Dhi Qar, had come to town to visit relatives.
Police later found her body in a derelict area with her hands and legs bound. She had been raped multiple times and her head smashed by what was believed to be a large brick, said authorities.
An off-duty soldier assigned to a nearby army base, Akram al-Mayahi, was arrested in connection with Banin's murder. He was found guilty on October 22 and sentenced to death, said judge Jassim al-Moussawi.
Banin's family wanted Mayahi to be executed publically at the scene of the crime as a deterrent, Ibadi said. The sentence has yet to be carried out.
The other young girl, Abeer, also came from Dhi Qar province, a relatively poor part of Iraq. She was abducted on October 11 while her family attended a wedding not far from the scene of Banin's murder.
Her body was found 12 hours later in an empty lot, bearing similar signs of trauma to the previous victim.
Authorities said the suspect phoned nine friends and invited them to take part in the rape. So far, eight people have been arrested and have confessed.