Thousands Protest Newspaper Closure In

Thousands Protest Newspaper Closure in Baghdad

Some 5,000 followers of Muqtada al-Sadr marched through largely Shiite East Baghdad on Saturday, protesting the closure of his al-Hawzah newspaper. The building demonstrations come against a backdrop of continued violence in Iraq.

The night before, heavy fighting had broken out in Kufa, a town of about 120,000 near Najaf south of Baghdad, acorrding to The Washington Post It involved rocket propelled grenade fire. It is murky who was fighting whom. Kufa is the headquarters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the young, radical leader of militant ghetto Shiism in Iraq. In the past his followers have clashed with the militia of the Badr Corps, associated with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. On two occasions last fall, Sadrists clashed with US military forces.

Several thousand Shiite protesters had gathered outside the headquarters of the American administration of Iraq in downtown Baghad on Friday. Press accounts differ on the size of the crowds, with The Washington Post, presumably relying on Coalition Provisional Authority sources, putting them at only 1500, while Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald says that called it the largest protest rally yet assembled outside the Coalition HQ, some 20,000 strong. The throngs objected to the the closure last Sunday of the al-Hawzah newspaper of Muqtada al-Sadr.

Muqtada’s Baghdad representative, Sayyid Hazim al-Araqi, gave a speech to the crowd, saying that ‘ the U.S. and proxy Iraqis have created “streets full of thieves, carjackers and rubbish,” encouraged adultery by trying to crack down on so-called honor killings and flirted with reconciliation of the reviled Baath Party by only dismissing from jobs top tier workers who swore allegiance to Saddam’s movement. “We fought Saddam, and now we’re fighting the Americans,” the sheik said. “Listen America, Britain and Israel, there’s a man named Muqtada Sadr and he gives resistance fighters their courage.”

If Muqtada did indeed get out a crowd ofso many thousands on Friday in Baghdad, it is a sign of new influence. In some instances when he called for protests, only a few hundred came out. Clearly the closing of the newspaper has struck a raw nerve in the Iraqi Shiite community.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a rival of Muqtada’s was able to put 100,000 protesters in the streets of Baghdad in mid-January, but they were not just outside the CPA headquarters. It seems to me clear that Shiite protesters are coming out who are not necessarily loyal to Muqtada, but just mind the idea of the American military occupation authorities telling them what they can and cannot read.

Naomi Klein of the Guardian explains some of the discontents with Paul Bremer in Iraq, especially with regard to closing Muqtada’s newspaper.

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