More Violence in Iraq
I was at a conference at Columbia on Monday and then traveling and so was away from news most of the day. When I did get a chance to check in, I found this Boston Globe piece that summarized the now-daily carnage. Renewed fighting in Falluja, including use of air strikes (a problematic strategy in a populated city). One Marine dead, eight wounded, and 8 guerrillas killed.
Renewed fighting around Najaf and Kufa, with the US determined to move into some new positions in Najaf. Al-Hayat reports that a group calling itself “The Youth of the People of Najaf,” somethig like a street gang, claimed to have clashed with the Mahdi Army militia, to have killed some militiamen, and to have forced it out of the shrine of Imam Ali (this claim seems unlikely to me). The shrine cities have an old history of street gangs that fight one another, so that this local gang is taking on the Sadrists is plausible.
Since the Badr Corps of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq had control of the shrine of Imam Ali before the Sadrist uprising of early April, and since it still is helping patrol Karbala, my own guess is that Badr has deliberately pulled back in hopes that the Mahdi Army and the Americans will weaken each other. The hope that other Najaf forces will take care of Muqtada al-Sadr for the US seems to me forlorn. The Najafis hate Muqtada and his militiamen, who are not from Najaf on the whole. On the other hand, no Shiite clerical figure can possibly want to see the US drag Muqtada away in chains, since that would inevitably weaken the clerical authorities.
My guess is that the US will gradually encroach on Najaf and will eventually try to capture Muqtada. He gave an interview to the Italian La Repubblica on Monday, in which he predicted that if the US arrests or kills him, the Iraqi people will unleash on them the fires of hell. It seems to me likely that his cadres will in fact launch a long-term, low-grade guerrilla war in the South if the US captures or kills Muqtada. The question is whether, in putting down this insurgency to come, the US will alienate other Shiites, setting the stage for further failures. The US shouldn’t have gone after Muqtada to begin with.
Two US troops killed and five wounded in Baghdad when a house blew up as they were trying to inspect it for chemical weapons. Local Iraqis said it was a cosmetics factory but it seems to have been something else.