An Attack on Najaf “Will be Zero Hour of a Massive Popular Uprising”: al-Khaz’ali
Hundreds of members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Army of the Mahdi rallied in the streets of Najaf on Saturday, carrying arms and chanting slogans of support for him. They thronged to his office so as to kiss his hand and receive blessings before returning to their chanting. On Friday, his followers had pledged to launch a general war if the US invaded Najaf. Gen. Mark Kimmit announced that a US soldier who had received wounds in a clash with Mahdi Army militiamen on Friday died. Two militiamen also died in that fight.
The negotiations between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Coalition ceased on Saturday, and it looked to some observers on the ground as though a US attack on Najaf might begin any moment.
Qais al-Khaz’ali, a spokesman for Muqtada, said that the negotiators alleged that the US had made demands that formed insuperable obstacles to the talks, and that as a result tensions were escalating. He added, “We expect the American forces to assault the city of Najaf at any moment.” Gunfire was heard in the northeast of the city, in the area known as Bahr al-Najaf, where it appears that American troops have gathered in strength.
Al-Khaz’ali said, “We are prepared for a confrontation, and we believe that this attack will represent the zero hour for the launching of a massive popular revolution.”
For their part, American officials stressed their intention to disarm the Army of the Mahdi, which they blame for the bloody clashes in the south of the country and in Baghdad in the first week of April.
al-Hayat in a breaking story says that Coalition spokesman Dan Senor denied al-Khaz’ali’s pessimistic account, and said that numerous parties had stepped forward to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement, and that that was what the Coalition Provisional Authority also wanted.
Back to ash-Sharq al-Awsat
In contrast, Abdul Karim al-Anzi, the negotiator for the grand ayatollahs in this matter, said he expected a response from the American side momentarily, and continued negotiations. Another negotiator, Khudair al-Khuza’i, from an offshoots of the al-Da`wa Party, said “No new meeting has taken place with the Americans for three days, and we expect them to set a new date for talks . . . I hope that the logic of truth prevails over the logic of the rifle. I am by nature an optimist, and I believe that the last thing the politicians are considering is a war, especially since such a war would spread widely and would be in no one’s interest.”
(Al-Anzi hasn’t read enough about the outbreak of World War I, which could have been similarly described. The US civil administration in any case seems to underestimate the dangers of an attack on Najaf, and the military has to do what Rumsfeld says. Rummy now says he was surprised at the loss of US life in the recent April uprising. It is the problem with wearing rose tinted glasses that reality comes as a shock when someone knocks them off.)
The negotiators had met the Americans for 5 hours on Wednesday, and then met on Thursday with the grand ayatollahs and with al-Sadr. One of the US demands seemed to the Shiites “crippling” to negotiations, and they have now lapsed.
The Board of Muslim Clergymen (a Sunni group) announced its support for Muqtada and asked all Iraqis “to the expel the Occupation,” on a day of relative calm in Fallujah. (The Board of Clergymen, led by Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, has played an important role in negotiations between the city leaders of Fallujah and the US, but it has been consistently opposed to the US presence in the country). Muhammad Ayyash al-Kubaisi, the Board’s representative outside Iraq, told al-Arabiya satellite television that all Iraqis who oppose the forces of Occupation, including Muqtada al-Sadr, are working for the same goal. He said that the Board had issued fatwas requiring an end to US occupation. He said Iraqis would not allow themselves to be divided along religious lines and ruled, and that the Shiite resistance has stiffened the resolve of the Board.
The Scotsman also reported on the breakdown of negotiations with some pessimism, and noted that ‘ The pressures appeared to be taking their toll on US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who appeared to briefly lose consciousness during a press conference yesterday. Kimmitt left the podium, apparently feeling unwell, but returned a short time later. ‘