*Two American servicemen were killed in Iraq on Friday, AP says. Someone shot and killed a soldier from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Baghdad about 5:30 p.m. yesterday according to Corp. Todd Pruden, a spokesman for the military. Also on Friday afternoon, in Falluja a guerrilla set off a remote controlled bomb as a US convoy was nearing the main bridge over the Euphrates, killing a soldier from the 3rd I.D. AP says that a Falluja crowd chanted “America is the enemy of God,” while the US Army towed away the burned out hulk of the bombed Humvee. And, the Americans found and demolished yet another bomb in Falluja.
Demonstrators in Falluja defied the US-imposed curfew to shout, “With our spirits, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Iraq!” “Iraq” doesn’t rhyme as well in this Arabic phrase (al-dam is the Arabic word for “blood”) as “Saddam” used to. They need a new chant.
*Then, the Sunni clerics mounted the pulpit in their mosques in Baghdad on Friday and denounced the US occupation and the Governing Council. They said it was shameful for the GC to declare April 9, the beginning of a foreign occupation, to be a national holiday.
After the Friday prayers, Sunni crowds poured into the streets to demonstrate, saying that the new Governing Council did not reflect “the Iraqi reality.” They gathered at the Umm al-Qura Mosque in west Baghdad, with placards asserting that the Governing Council was appointed by dictators, and “April 9 is a day of infamy.” They came up with a lot of rhymes to chant, though some of them depend on “Baghdad” being the last word, so they don’t do the people in Falluja much good. One chilling chant was “O Baghdad, revolutionary! Let Bremer’s fate be that of Nuri!” The reference is to Nuri al-Sa`id, the conservative pro-British Prime Minister who was mangled and killed by revolutionary mobs during the republican coup of 1958. (-al-Hayat)
So, we heard from the Sunni Arabs on Friday.
*Now for the Shiites. In his Friday Prayer Sermon in Kufa on Friday, Muqtada al-Sadr, 30, called for nonviolent noncooperation with the US administration and the transitional (“illegitimate”) Governing Council it has established, calling them infidels. He said he would oppose them even if it cost him his life. “They have delivered this peaceful Muslim country to the foreign forces.” He then called for the establishment of an alternative shadow government for Iraq, in cooperation with other Islamic forces. He also wanted an alternative convention to draft a constitution in accordance with Shiite law. He insisted according to AP, “Eventually, we’ll have a referendum separate from the Americans and, God willing, elections separate from the Americans.” He also announced the formation of the “Mahdi Army,” i.e. a formal militia of Shiites loyal to him (as far as I can see, this militia has actually existed for some time, and it appears to control Kufa, much of East Baghdad, and perhaps some neighborhoods in other Shiite cities such as Najaf, Karbala, and Basra).
Agence France Presse quoted Muqtada as saying, “This government is not legitimate and has no popular support. There can be no justice from an unjust council. We want a government which is Islamic where everyone is represented. It is like this we will build Iraq’s unity and draft a constitution.” AFP says that ‘He disparaged the council as a feeble attempt to cobble together Iraq’s mosaic of ethnic groups. The council members “pretend to be Muslims, democrats and pious”, but “it would have been better for them to follow the Marjaiyah”, the Shiite religious authority.’
I think Muqtada should be taken seriously over the long term (one or two years) but not in the short term. He and his followers got out 10,000 demonstrators in mid-May (on a day that was anyway a holy day commemoration), but since then the crowds have dwindled to 2500 in early June and then just to a few hundred whenever the Sadr Movement has called for anti-US rallies in Baghdad. So, it is not at all clear that most Iraqi Shiites, even in the Muqtada heartland of East Baghdad, are ready to take direct action, even just to come out for protests. Muqtada is arguing to them that they must do so, to strangle the authority of the Governing Council in the cradle, or risk it attaining legitimacy and then sidelining the religious forces down the road. When Muqtada can call for a rally in Baghdad and get 20,000 or 30,000, even 100,000 people to show up, then he will be dangerous to the US presence in Iraq. At the moment, he is a dark cloud on the horizon. I think it would be dangerous for the Coalition to arrest him–that might be precisely the kind of catalyst that would bring out the big crowds or turn the Shiite militias loyal to him violent. Maybe that kind of arrest and symbolic martyrdom is even what he is angling for.
The potential for violence among Shiite factions themselves remains high. Iran Network 1 announced on July 17, “Another news from Iraq is that an attempt was made on the life of Shaykh La’ith, known as Abu Du’a, who is in charge of distributing Ayatollah (Ali) Sistani’s stipends for seminarians, by unidentified assassins, today, in Najaf. After this, he was transferred to hospital.” (BBC monitoring). Well, if we had to start compiling a list of suspects, the Sadr movement would have to be high on it. Just for Sgt. Friday to interview them, mind you.
*Asharq al-Awsat reports from Kuwait that the Sunnis in Basra have taken back possession of the administrative offices for Sunni pious endowments from the Sadr Movement, which had invaded them on Weds. They found the offices empty but denuded of their extensive files on Sunni religious properties in the city. The Sunni spokesman claimed that 15,000 Sunnis demonstrated against this move by the radical Shiites, in front of Basra’s Great Mosque after Friday prayers. They had originally planned then to walk in procession to the British HQ, but decided not to, for fear they might come into violent confrontation with the Sadr Movement. They reported that at the stationary Great Mosque demonstration, they were joined by members of the Shi`ite Al-Da`wa Party, as well as members of the al-Fadilah Party, a breakaway Sadrist group that follows Sheikh Muhammad Ya`qubi instead of Muqtada. These Shiite forces expressed their solidarity with the Sunnis. But the Sunni leaders nevertheless warned of the danger of an outbreak of sectarian violence should the Sadr Movement attempt further expropriations of Sunni property. It is incredible to me that the Western press has so far completely missed this story.
Less and less jumping up and down for joy among the people of Iraq.