The Second Front: Multi-City Sadrist Uprising Continues
The difficulty the United States and its allies are having in regaining control of the major cities of the Shiite south is breathtaking in its implications. There is little doubt that they can prevail eventually in a military sense. But if the Sadrist uprising were a minor affair of a few thousand ragtag militiamen, it is difficult to understand how they could survive the onslaught of 150,000 well-armed and well-trained European and North American troops for more than a day. Rather, it is clear that urban crowds are supporting the uprising in some numbers. Even when the Coalition puts the uprising down, it may well incur the wrath of many persons who had earlier viewed it with favor. And if the US cannot control Iraq now, when it has its hands directly on all the levers of power, how will it do so in the coming year, as it loses its grip on those levers?
The tired CPA refrain that lots of schools have been painted and the markets are bustling is shockingly inept even as propaganda. I lived in Beirut in the early years of the civil war there. I’d like to report that people shop during wars and heavy civil disturbances. The economy does not disappear in such situations. It is just that the value of currency drops, foreign investment dries up, and hoarding is widespread. People rush out to buy stocks in case there are curfews. Bustling bazaars mean nothing in themelves–they have to be interpreted in context. But major fighting in most Shiiite urban areas is unambiguous in its significance. It means that the Bush administration rule of Iraq is FUBAR. It seems inevitable to me that the US military will pursue a war to the death with the Army of the Mahdi, the Sadrist movement, and Muqtada al-Sadr himself. They will of course win this struggle on the surface and in the short term, because of their massive firepower. But the Sadrists will simply go underground and mount a longterm guerrilla insurgency similar to that in the Sunni areas.
The United States has managed to create a failed state, similar to Somalia and Haiti, in Iraq.
Let’s look at the major battles on Tuesday:
Baghdad/Kadhimiya Three US soldiers in the First Armored Division were killed in ambushes in the Shiite Kadhimiya district according to the Boston Globe. In the past, the middle-class Kadhimiya quarter has not been a center for radicalism, but anti-American sentiment is now spreading among the Shiites, and is no longer confined to the slum areas.
Baghdad/ Sadr City: CNN reports continued scattered firefights in the slums of East Baghdad between US troops and the Army of the Mahdi. US armored columns were on patrol in this Shiite slum. US soldiers searched Muqtada’s offices in Sadr City. They also searched a nearby mosque, stomping into it with their boots on, which is considered sacrilegious in Islam. Some 57 Shiites have been killed in Sadr City since the uprising began on Sunday.
Najaf CNN reports that Muqtada al-Sadr is now in complete control of the municipality of Najaf, a holy city of 500,000 inhabitants, occupying government buildings and police stations, and having taken control of the Shrine of Imam Ali. Muqtada’s supporters are streaming into the city from East Baghdad. Muqtada, who may now be in Najaf, called for a general strike, and demanded that Coalition forces withdraw from Iraqi cities and release all prisoners taken in recent clashes. The Boston Globe reports that Muqtada said, , ‘ “America has shown its evil intentions, and the proud Iraqi people cannot accept it. They must defend their rights by any means they see fit,” Sadr said in a statement. “I’m prepared to have my own blood shed for what is holy to me.” He called on Sunnis and Shi’ites alike to fight occupation troops. ‘
Karbala: Guerrillas in Karbala armed with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns fought running battles with Coalition troops, wounding three Polish soldiers and three Bulgarian ones.
Nasiriyah: AFP is reporting the outbreak of a major gun battle in the southern city of Nasiriyah late Tuesday when a truce between the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Italian contingent broke down. The Sadrists had announced the ceasefire at noon Iraq time to allow the Italians to withdraw, they said. At 6:30 pm Iraq time, gunfire between the two sides had broken out again. Earlier Tuesday, the Italians had tried to take control of bridges from the Sadrist militias in Nasiriyah, suffering twelve wounded. They killed 10 Iraqis and wounded 37, according to the Nasiriyah hospital. Guerrillas near Nasiriyah attacked a truck convoy, killing a Bulgarian truck driver. The Mahdi Army kidnapped and held 2 South Korean human rights workers from Sunday through Tuesday, but Korean authorities said they had been released. (This development reminds one of the terrible “hostage crisis” in Lebanon during the 1980s, and may be yet another tactic in the quiver of the Sadrists). Late reports early Weds. morning said that the Sadrists were now off the streets or had withdrawn from the city, and that the Italians were again in control.
Kut Ukrainian soldiers fought with Army of the Mahdi militiamen over two bridges, which the Shiites had taken. The Ukrainians claimed to be in control of the town at the end of the day Tuesday, but
‘ a Sadr spokesman told Agence France-Presse that the Ukrainians only held a bridge in front of their base.’ (-Boston Globe)
Amara Fighting also raged in the southern city of Amara, where British troops killed 15 Iraqis and wounded 8. About 6 British soldiers were wounded.
Diwaniyah: CNN reports fighting on Tuesday in Diwaniyah between Army of the Mahdi troops and Spanish forces.
Basra: The situation in Basra, where Sadrists had occupied the governor’s mansion, is murky, but CNN said it was “deteriorating rapidly.” The Mirror reports,: ‘ British patrols in Basra came under heavy fire from Sadr’s black clothed fighters. [British Ministry of Defence officials said]: “Disturbances are ongoing in Basra and we are waiting for more information to clarify the situation.” ‘ az-Zaman reported Wednesday morning that a truce had been reached between the British and the Sadrists, that the latter had withdrawn from the governor’s mansion, and that they had agreed to let the police resume their patrols. But this report is contemporaneous with the more ambiguous and ominous statements from the British foreign ministry that don’t seem as confident that the situation is under control.