Muqtada Misses Friday Prayers; More Violence Near Najaf
Reuters reports Friday that a day after an apparent agreement between the Interim Governing Council and Muqtada al Sadr, his followers were disappointed to find that he did not appear for Friday prayers in Kufa (he has been hiding out in nearby Najaf). Some 5,000 followers had gathered to hear him, and were disappointed and angry, blaming the US for his inability to appear. They chanted, “yes, yes to jihad!” Meanwhile, the US military, which had largely withdrawn to a base outside the city, came under fire on Friday. Although the US had welcomed Muqtada´s truce offer, they had threatened to come back if there was more violence. There seems to be a contradiction in the press reporting, with some saying that the US accepted a provision that the arrest warrant against Muqtada be suspended for the time being, while this Reuters report seems to suggest that the U.S. would still very much like to apprehend him. If the latter is true, it would help explain his reluctance to come out in public at a time when he has agreed to dissolve his militia in the holy cities, and when his fighters in Kufa, in any case, have taken heavy casualties.
Ash Sharq al Awsat/Reuters report that Muqtada was convinced to remove his militia from Najaf by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and that the final negotiations actually took place in Sistani´s house. Sistani had condemned both the Mahdi Army and the US military for fighting in the holy city. He was convinced that a major US military push into Najaf was not far away, and that it was urgent for Muqtada to back down. Sistani has a great fear of social disorder, and was well aware that the Bush administration was capable of risking massive Shiite riots by fighting into Najaf in a frontal assault if that were the only way to get Muqtada. He also knew that Muqtada´s troops would not shrink from themselves using rpg´s and other potentially damaging weapons in the holy city.
Meanwhile, Salama Khafaji, a Shiite woman who has served in the Interim Governing Council, barely escaped assassination on Thursday as she returned to Baghdad after taking part in the negotiations with the Sadrists that produced the truce. She is all right, but one of her bodyguards is dead, another severely wounded, and her son, Ahmad Fadel, is still missing (he dove into the river to avoid the machine gun fire directed at their car). It is incredible that members of the IGC are not safe; if they aren´t, it is likely that nobody is. Khafaji replaced Aqila al Hashemi, another Shiite woman, who was assassinated last September. Khafaji has been among the most effective and outspoken of the women on the IGC. She followed Rajaa al-Khuzai’s lead in helping reverse the plan of the clerics on the IGC to implement Islamic personal status law in the place of civil law. And, she had been active in the negotiations with the Sadrists.
Friday had been declared a day of mourning in Iran for the desecration of the holy city of Najaf by the fighting in it (which Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei blamed on the U.S.) and the consequent damage to the shrine of Ali.
Guerrillas killed two Japanese journalists as they were returning from Samawah, where the Japenese Self Defense Forces are stationed, to Baghdad.
Hussain Shahristani, the favored candidate for post of prime minister by special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, withdrew because he could not gain the support of powerful Iraqi politicians who had been expatriates and who now want the job for themselves, according to the WP. Ali Allawi of the Iraqi National Congress (a nephew of Ahmad Chalabi), Ibrahim Jaafari of the al Da´wa Party, and Adel Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq all want the job themselves. Al Da´wa has the biggest grass roots, and Jaafari is the third most popular political-religious figure in Iraq, according to a recent poll (behind Sistani and Muqtada). But Brahimi does not want the PM to come from a party with grass roots, lest he use the advantages of incumbency to stay in power.