Demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra Against US by Shiites
The aftermath of the gunbattle in Karbala between US troops and the tribal paramilitary of an obscure cleric named Mahmud al-Hasani (Mahmoud al-Hassani) was marked by demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra. All the indications are now that al-Hasani is a Sadrist. Knight-Ridder says that he was a student of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999), who founded the movement before he was assassinated at Saddam’s orders. The NYT today (Saturday) also notes that his militiamen have long been anti-American. We know from the Spanish report I posted (below) that Coalition troops in the past searched his house, provoking demonstrations in Karbala. I now see that the initial statement from the CPA was only that they did not think he had fought on Khalid Kadhimi’s side (i.e. the Sadrist side) in the shrine battle last Monday, which is not dispositive as to his loyalty to Muqtada al-Sadr. So, I’m concluding he is some kind of Sadrist.
Reuters reports 10/18 “US troops sealed off roads around the house of an Iraqi Shia Muslim cleric, while another religious leader warned the crackdown would only backfire. Soldiers surrounded buildings used by local cleric Sayyid Mahmud al-Hassani on Saturday with armoured vehicles while helicopters circled overhead. “ Novinite says that Bulgarian troops were caught in the crossfire on Thursday night, but took no casualties, and have been involved in securing al-Hasani’s offices on Friday and Saturday. Karbala is tense and under curfew.
Knight-Ridder says that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s representative at the Imam Husayn Mosque has advised the US against arresting al-Hasani, fearing that such a move would give him a huge following. See
The back story is that Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces in Karbala had worked out an agreement in June allowing representatives of the Sadrists and those of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to alternate preaching the Friday prayers at the mosque attached to the shrine of Imam Husayn. In early July Muqtada al-Sadr abrogated the agreement, saying Sistani’s preachers were unqualified. His men jostled with those loyal to Grand Ayatollah Sistani.
The Marines attempted to curb the growth of shrine militias. Ann Scott Tyson referred to this in “Iraq’s Simmering South” in the Christian Science Monitor for Sept. 22: “This summer, for example, marines in Karbala officially disbanded the Hawza’s 200-strong Karbala Protective Force (KPF) after it began beating and arresting people – including couples caught holding hands outside the mosque – without turning them over to the city police. Some of the mosque militia resisted and remains active.” So the move on mosque militias, probably mainly Sadrist in character, is hardly new.
It is not clear if it is related, but Sadrists seem to have been behind the demonstrations against the Marines in Karbala in late July.
On July 26, I reported, “There was a demonstration on Saturday against Marine patrols coming too
close to the shrine of Imam Husayn, among the holiest sites of Shiite
Islam. The demonstration turned ugly. The Marines fired tear gas, and
one cannister hit the shrine itself. Iraqi demonstrators maintained that
the Marines killed one demonstrator. On Sunday the crowd assembled again,
for another demonstration. It also turned ugly. About nine Shiites were
wounded by US gunfire in front of the Imam Husayn Shrine. Another man may
or may not have been killed, depending on which wire service you follow.
The demonstrations were probably provoked by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr.
The Marines maintain that the man who was killed was armed and had fired
on them. I think it likely that someone did fire on them, to provoke them
into injuring protesters. They fell for it.”
On July 30, I reported, “Also on Wednesday, 1,000 demonstrators came out in Karbala to protest “increasing drug abuse and distribution of pornographic movies in the governorate.” (Drug use and drug smuggling do seem to be an increasing problem).” This was certainly a puritanical Sadrist-organized protest, which implicitly blamed the US for decadence in the holy city.
These attacks on the US were probably part of an internal struggle over control of the shrines, with the Sadrists representing themselves as more worthy of that control because more active in defending holy land from the infidels’ footprints.
Tyson says, “The upsurge of crime around mosques revealed a clear security gap, posing a dilemma for Shiite clerics, US forces, and local police. In a breakthrough in Karbala in early August, all three groups agreed on a joint operation to sweep out criminals. Hundreds of city police armed with AK-47s and mosque enforcers carrying sticks flooded the plaza around the Imam Abbas Mosque before the market opened, tearing down illegal stalls. US troops stayed at the perimeter, searching incoming vehicles for guns and other contraband . . . friction remains high. Indeed, the arrival in the south of a 9,000-strong Polish-led multinational division to replace US marines is complicating the security picture by worsening language barriers and chain-of-command problems.”
On September 9 or so, Polish forces searched the house of another Sadrist, Shaikh Mahmud al-Hasani, provoking demonstrations in Karbala by his followers. Tyson wrote, “Earlier this month, hundreds of Iraqis, some brandishing swords, surrounded US MPs at the Karbala station after the soldiers disarmed the guards of a local cleric. Iraqi police stood aside. Polish-led Bulgarian troops arrived late. By the end of the seven-hour protest, three Iraqis had been shot to death by the Americans. “Unfortunately, it turned for the worse,” says Lt. Joseph La Jeunesse of the 870th Military Police.” So, three Iraqi militiamen protesting the search of al-Hasani’s domicile had already been shot by the US MPs, a little over a month ago. What happened this past Thursday night 10/16 – 10/17 was a grudge rematch. This time they took out three Americans and wounded seven others. One of those killed Friday morning was a lieutenant colonel, Lt. Col. Kim S. Orlando, 43, the highest ranking US officer yet killed in Iraq.
It may be to these events of early September that Reuters (10/18) reports a Coalition official as referring: “Officials in the US-led occupation authority ruling Iraq believes Hassani has 60 to 100 followers in Karbala. “He is a mixture of a criminal and a lunatic who believes he has a hotline to God … He had set up checkpoints in Karbala to fleece money out of people. At one point, his guys went to the governorate building with machetes and two were shot,” a occupation authority official said. “
About a month ago, or mid-September, Muqtada’s lieutenant in Karbala, Shaikh Khalid Kadhimi (Khadhumi), was excluded from the shrines and the essential wealth the pilgrimage city generates.
The violence in Karbala that broke out last weekend was fostered by conflicts between the leader of the faction loyal to Grand Ayatollah Sistani (Shaikh Maytham Sa`doun) and Muqtada’s man Khalid Kadhimi, over theft by one side of the vehicle of the other. Reprisals led to a battle for control of the shrines of Imam Husayn and his brother Abbas.
Muqtada says he did not order this fighting, that the divisions among Shiites are the doing of the US, and that the Coalition Provisional Authority was dividing the Shiites in order to better rule them. He implied that the US is provoking the faction fighting so as to frame Muqtada as a terrorist and arrest him.
In the aftermath of the fight Thursday night, hundreds or thousands of demonstrators rallied in Baghdad and Basra. In Basra the demonstration turned ugly, with demonstrators throwing rocks at British troops.
Muqtada had recently talked about recognizing the Interim Governing Council if Paul Bremer gave up his veto over its decisions and if it were expanded. Later on Friday, the Arabic press reported that he had been encouraged by Friday’s demonstrations to resume the process of establishing a shadow government. He said he would ask the United Nations to recognize it as the government of Iraq.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged that the militias be disarmed so as to forestall a budding civil war.