Sistani Holds Political Meetings in Najaf
Guerrilla War Continues in Mosul, Baghdad, Kirkuk
Hundreds of residents of Najaf mounted a demonstration on Monday, for the second straight day, against Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Demonstrators shouted, “Take you hands off the city! The people of Najaf do not want you!” They also called the Mahdi Army members “thieves.”
Meanwhile, Deutsche Press Agentur via al-Zaman reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani held his first explicitly political meetings on Monday at his office, seeing in turn Najaf Governor Ali al-Zurfi, young radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and a representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Amar al-Hakim. Sistani had earlier intervened to stop Iraqi National Guards from surrounding Muqtada’s house.
The discussions focused on the security situation in the city, and on means of implementing the security agreement that ended the siege of the city. Sistani’s spokesman said the Grand Ayatollah urged all the parties to adhere to the agreement, and to maintain national unity and avoid bloodshed. (It is interesting that a grand ayatollah should make his plea based on “national unity” rather than on Islam or Shiite Islam.) Sistani had begun the day by leading dawn prayers on Monday in the mosque of the Shrine of Ali for the first time in 20 years, signalling a return of the city to stability. The rest of the shrine will be reopened to pilgrims later this week. The pilgrimage trade to Najaf is worth millions of dollars to Sistani now that he is in control of the shrine once more.
Despite the relative calm in Najaf, the guerilla war continued to rage in other parts of the country.
*There were clashes between US troops and Mahdi Army militiamen in Sadr City or East Baghdad, according to al-Jazeerah. (See Anne Barnard’s important article, “Shiite support eludes new Iraqi government“.
Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder has an interesting analysis of the implications of the bombing near Fallujah that killed 7 Marines on Monday. She sees it as a sign that it will be very difficult to hold elections in the Sunni heartland, given this level of insecurity. She quotes me; I said I thought Sistani and other Shiite leaders would try to make sure the elections happened in the Shiite south, and that in any case if the elections happen, it will be because Iraqis make them happen. The US can’t make elections happen in Iraq by itself.
AP reports that on Sunday and Monday, in addition to the bombing of the Marines near Fallujah, there were a number of other violent incidents. (AFP and al-Hayat maintain that in revenge for the car bombing, the US military repeatedly strafed and bombed a part of Fallujah, destroying two houses. The US military seems to be denying that it took any such action).
*Guerrillas detonated a car bomb in eastern Baghdad, wounding three US soldiers on Monday.
*In Mosul, guerrillas fought a running battle with National Guards late Sunday, in the course of which 3 civilians were killed and nine were wounded.
*In Kirkuk, guerrillas assassinated the Norwegian wife of an Iraqi Kurd and wounded her daughter. Also in Kirkuk, police discovered and disarmed a car bomb that had been prepared for use.
James Carroll’s insightful meditation, “The Unwinnable War,” is a must read.