*The US has been pressing the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to disarm its Badr Brigade fighters, according to Charlotte Edwardes of the Daily Telegraph. In a tense meeting this weekend, the deputy head of SCIRI, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, told the US military leadership that he would not disarm the Badr Brigade and that anyway the Americans should be leaving soon. Gen. David McKiernan told SCIRI that if it did not disarm voluntarily it would be disarmed by force. His deputy, Gen. John Abizaid, accused the Badr Brigade of operating under the influence of Iran. The US is holding 35 Badr Brigade soldiers, most captured at the eastern town of Baquba, where they have traded fire with US marines. The US determination to disarm the militias is praiseworthy. But it should be remembered that in some areas the US isn’t supplying security, which the militias are, and if they are disarmed then McKiernan is responsible for seeing that function replaced. And, disarming some of them, especially in places like East Baghdad, is not going to be easy and could provoke popular unrest.
*Speaking of unrest, there were two big demonstrations in Najaf on Saturday. One was against the continued presence of former Baathist officials in the city’s administration. The other was staged by teachers in the city’s seminaries, demanding back pay from the city’s ministry of education. It is wonderful to see Iraqis in Najaf engaging in politics and holding free demonstrations. But everyone should remember how symbolically important the city is; if demonstrations get big there, and are put down with violence, it would have repercussions far and wide. My advice to the Americans is to remove the Baathists from the administration and to find a way to pay the teachers.
*Jawad al-Khalisi, a major Shiite cleric until recently in exile in the UK, returned to Kazimiya, a Shiite suburb of Iraq, to the acclaim of thousands. His family is associated with a seminary there, which had been closed by Saddam at the beginning of the ’80s and recently reopened.