Muqtada Under Siege, US Helicopters Patrol Skies above East Baghdad
Sistani calls for calm
In the aftermath of one of the most turbulent days yet in American-occupied Iraq, the London daily al-Hayat reports that American helicopters were deployed late Sunday against the Army of the Mahdi militia of Muqtada al-Sadr in East Baghdad.
It said that Muqtada al-Sadr had withdrawn into his mosque in Kufa, south of Baghdad, for a spiritual “retreat,” and that it was reported that Coalition military forces had surrounded the mosque. (Mosques are considered sanctuaries in the Muslim world, and there are always protests when they are invaded by security forces or military troops).
Agence France Presse reported that an aide close to Sistani said, ‘ The Ayatollah has called on the Shia demonstrators to remain calm, to keep a cool head and allow the problem to be resolved through negotiation,” the source said. “Ali Sistani also called on the demonstrators not to retaliate against the occupation forces in the event of an aggression . . .” Nevertheless, the revered cleric believes “the demonstrators’ demands are legitimate,” and “condemns acts waged by the occupation forces and pledges his support to the families of the victims”, the source said. ‘
Ash-sharq al-Awsat also reports that the gunfire at Najaf broke out when demonstrators began throwing stones at Spanish-speaking troops and Iraqi police, and the latter replied by firing at the protesters. The Salvadoran troops that were involved probably had no training in crowd control, and the Salvadoran military has a poor human rights record, so the US decision to deploy them there may have been a big political miscalculation.
If you want irony, and provocative irony, it turns out that the Plus Ultra base where the Sadrists protested was called “al-Andalus.” That is a reference to Arab Spain, to which the Catholics of the Reconquista put a bloody end in 1492. Although much has been written about the Jews forcibly converted to Christianity in the aftermath, it is not realized that many more Muslims stayed and were forced to convert under the watchful eye of the Inquisition. For the Plus Ultra to call their base Andalus is in incredibly bad taste, and shows the sort of triumphalist mentality that has accompanied the Bush administration’s rehabilitation of “empire.” Unfortunately, naming things is not as hard as actually controlling imperial subjects.
It is now being reported that 4 Iraqis were killed and 8 wounded when British troops put down demonstrations in Amara on Sunday.
Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader, condemned the Sadrists for resorting to violence. Muqtada has been a particularly harsh critic of Kurdish plans for semi-autonomy within a loose Iraqi federal system.
Muqtada’s words before he went into retreat in his mosque: “Make your enemy afraid, for it is impossible to remain quiet about their moral offenses; otherwise we have arrived at consequences that will not be praiseworthy. I am with you, and shall not forsake you to face hardships alone. I fear for you, for no benefit will come from demonstrations. Your enemy loves terrorism, and despises peoples, and all Arabs, and muzzles opinions. I beg you not to resort to demonstrations, for they have become nothing but burned paper. It is necessary to resort to other measures, which you take in your own provinces. As for me, I am with you, and I hope I will be able to join you and then we shall ascend into exalted heavens. I will go into an inviolable retreat in Kufa. Help me by whatever you are pleased to do in your provinces. “
The bit about going into a retreat (i`tis.am) and hoping to join his followers later so that they could ascend to the heavens shows an apocalyptic imagination at work. The US is facing another Waco, and what we know is that military sorts of force are the worst way to deal with apocalyptic groups like the Branch Dravidians and the Sadrists. That approach only confirms their conviction that the forces of this world are attempting to prevent them from attaining paradise.