Situation Around Najaf remains Tense
Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement remain defiant. In Basra, about 800 Sadrists held a demonstration, led by Shaikh Abdul Sattar al-Bahadili, in which they alleged that the British were responsible for the recent horrific bombings. Many Basrans angry, at the very least, at the UK troops for allowing the bombings to take place (though if the local Iraqi police and militias couldn’t stop them, it is difficult to see what the British could have done). The protesters carried signs saying that the people and the police are united under a religious imperative (a reference to Muqtada’s desire for a theocracy). (- ash-Sharq al-Awsat).
AP reports that the US troops around Najaf have dug in for the long haul. It notes,
‘ Senior officers say the order to attack Najaf will be made “at the very highest levels of the U.S. government,” an indication that President Bush may have the final word on whether soldiers here fight, or keep on waiting. ‘
Another reason for which the decision must be made by the President is the severe divisions in the US establishment in Iraq. Civil administrator Paul Bremer is said to have vehement and frequent disagreements with Gen. Rick Sanchez of CENTCOM.
There are also rumors that Bush himself made the decision that Fallujah would have to be massively punished for the desecration of the bodies of the US private soldiers of fortune killed there, and that Gen. John Abizaid strongly agreed.
That decision backfired badly from a political point of view, both in Iraq and the region, and the British in particular have signalled hard that it is time for the US to negotiate.
The negotiating mood may not last. The Marines have given the people of Fallujah just “days” to negotiate a final settlement, with an implied “or else.”
The continued lack of security and possibility of further big military operations have frightened many NGOs and contractors out of Iraq. Siemens and General Electric are leaving for the time being. A number of countries with small contingents in Iraq are seriously considering pulling them, in the wake of the Spanish withdrawal.