Guerrillas Near Balad Northeast Of Iraq

*Guerrillas near Balad , northeast of Iraq, injured two US soldiers and woundeded three Iraqis when they fired two rocket propelled grenades at a military convoy on Friday. Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported eyewitness accounts of another 4 US soldiers wounded in separate incidents, one on the fast road from Falluja to Ramadi, and one 16 km. west of Falluja (road mines). This means 6 were wounded altogether on Friday if the eyewitness reports are accurate.

*Followers of Muqtada al-Sadr in East Baghdad have decided to form 8 brigades (Faylaq al-Sadr) of the Imam Mahdi Army. (- al-Hayat) They will be used for “civil defense” of Sadr City and elsewhere. Four of the brigades will be sited in East Baghad, and four elsewhere in the country. Muqtada al-Sadr himself, in his Friday sermon at the mosque in Kufa, condemned the Coalition for shooting into the crowd in Sadr City on Weds., and for the problems in Basra, Amara, and Diwaniya. He said the Coalition had proven itself unable to govern Iraq. (His reference to Basra is to the riots there last weekend; the reference to Diwaniya is to the civil unrest there produced by a campaign to unseat the American-appointed mayor. There were similar problems in Nasiriya, which he did not mention. I frankly do not know to which incident he was referring in Amara). Sadrist clerics in the Friday Prayers sermons in East Baghdad again called for the US to withdraw from the city. One, at the Al al-Bayt Mosque, preached to a crowd of 20,000 (congregants spill out into the streets and listen by loudspeaker).

In fact, more radical members of both the Sunni and the Shiite clergy on Friday preached the need for the US to get out of Iraq.

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, criticized the US for trying to push the Interim Governing Council away from Islamic principles, and trying to isolate it from friendly Muslim states (read: Iran). Al-Hakim has been among the major allies of the US in the past year!

*A delegation of Chaldean Christians and Sabeans (Gnostics) met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf on Friday, to discuss with him the rights of minorities in the new Iraqi constitution. (-al-Zaman) He stressed to them the need for Iraqis to be united, and to put Iraqi nationalism (al-wataniyyah) over sectional interests. Sistani’s spokesman further denounced the letter allegedly from Saddam Hussein that called upon the Shiite clerics to declare jihad or holy war on the Americans. Murtada al-Kashmiri insisted that the letter was a fake, and was intended to embarrass the Shiite religious establishment, which has declined to call for violence. Kashmiri said that the grand ayatollahs in Najaf had as their purpose to end the American occupation by unifying the Iraqis.

*A chilling profile of an Iraqi guerrilla is painted by Ferry Biedermann of IPS. She argues that he is not a Baathist nor a Muslim fundamentalist, just an Iraqi nationalist embittered by some of the actions and attitudes of US troops in Iraq. See http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=19690.

*21 truckloads of relief aid were sent to Iraq from Qom on Friday by the Qom office of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, according to IRNA. The aid included food, clothing, blankets, Shiite books, and even air conditioners! The shipment is worth one billion Iranian rials ($120,000). But as I read the IRNA report, half of that billion was accounted for by a single magnificent chandelier that will grace the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. His Qom spokesman, Sadeq Dehsorkhi, said that Sistani’s office has sent over 9 billion tumans ($10 million) worth of aid to Iraq from Iran since April 9. Of course, all this raises the question of where the aid is really coming from, since Sistani has been based in Najaf since 1952. Some of it may come from Shiites in Iraq who follow his religious rulings. But it seems likely that some of it, at least, is from the Iranian government and is aimed at having an influence on Sistani and the Shiites of Iraq. It is not a lot of money in US dollars, but there are a lot of poverty-stricken Shiites in Iraq for whom this aid would be munificent. It is an example of how unrealistic it is for the US to think that it can limit Iranian influence in Iraq.

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