Shiite Militias Clash at Karbala
A bloody clash took place in the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Tuesday between Muqtada al-Sadr’s army of the Mahdi and militiamen loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Al-Sharq al-Awsat is reporting at least five dead, and 21wounded. Sistani’s forces repulsed the Sadrists, and the Bulgarian forces surrounded Karbala to prevent Sadrists from flocking there from East Baghdad. The two militias used Kalashnikov machine guns.
About a hundred of Muqtada’s men attempted to take control of the mausoleums the evening before yesterday. Sistani’s partisans locked the mausoleums to keep them out. Muqtada’s partisans were moved to act by his announcement of a shadow government over the weekend. It is alleged by al-Sharq al-Awsat that they have also been frustrated by their attempt to gain a foothold in Karbala, where the Sadrists have not been powerful in recent months.
In reaction, Shaikh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala’i, one of Sistani’s representatives in Karbala, criticized Muqtada for announcing a shadow government, saying it was not the time. He added, however, that the conflict with the United States is not confined to the Sadrists. He said all Iraqi’s are fast losing their patience with America, and that the latter should leave Iraq immediately. This is the statement of the “moderate” Shiite faction headed by Sistani!
The Western press again said widely today that Sistani favors a separation of religion and state. This simply is not true. He wants Islamic law to be the law of the land. He wants his fatwas to guide aspects of society. He wants judges to be clerics. All he is saying is that the legislature and executive should be staffed by the laity and that clerics shouldn’t get involved in day to day governing. That isn’t Khomeinism, but it isn’t a separation of religion and state.
In June, Sistani and Muqtada had worked out a deal whereby they alternated having their lieutenants preach sermons at the Mosque attached to the shrine of the Imam Husayn in Karbala. In early July, as I reported at the time, Muqtada repudiated this deal, insisting that only his preachers should preach at the shrine. Imam Husayn is the central martyr of the Shiite religion, and his mausoleum is among the holiest sites revered by its adherents. Preaching from its mosque bestows great prestige and influence. The two groups have jockeyed for position ever since, with Sistani’s forces in the ascendancy recently.
About a month ago, the people of Karbala excluded the Sadrists from the Mosque of Husayn.
So, this attack by the Sadrists was an attempt to reassert control over the mausoleums of Imam Husayn and his brother Abu’l-Fadl Abbas, and the Husayn mosque.