Muqtada’s Newspaper Closed, 1000 Demonstrate
AP is reporting that the Coalition Provisional Authority has closed the weekly newspaper of radical young Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, al-Hawzah. It is charged with fomenting violence against US troops. The US military authorities seriously considered arresting Muqtada last October, but in the end decided that would cause more trouble than it was worth (wisely enough). They did however threaten him, and as a result he quietened down and became more conciliatory for a while. In the past two months he has become more and more vitriolic in his public statements, perhaps emboldened by the prospect of a return to Iraqi sovereignty this summer.
The newspaper has carried scurrilous stories accusing the US of being behind some of the bombings of Shiites. I know it is tempting for some analysts to suspect the US military of Machiavellian actions. But it simply is not true that the US is firing missiles into Shiite mosques. It makes no sense. The Shiites are among the few friends they have left.
About 1,000 Sadrists came out to demonstrate in front of the newspaper’s offices, and one suspects that such demonstrations may well multiply as the date for the dissolution of the CPA draws near. There is a real question as to whether cracking down on the newspaper like this will make things better or worse. Since Muqtada has a tight network of mosque preachers throughout the south, he is perfectly capable of getting out his views without a newspaper, through the sermons of his lieutenants. Likewise, he gets quoted in Iran-based Arabic language television and radio broadcasts.
Although it is true that al-Hawzah has offered provocations, it is also likely the case that the US is seeking ways of taking away Muqtada’s megaphone so that he doesn’t do anything to ruin the hand-over of sovereignty on June 30.
Alissa Rubin of the LA Times reports that the CPA has also closed an informal court run by Muqtada in Najaf, and released prisoners who had been sentenced to being held and tortured in its basement. Muqtada’s organization is said to maintain such courts and prisons all over the country.