East Baghdad Rebels against US Rule
Daniel Williams of the Washington Post penetrates the fog of war and concludes that the US has been thrown out of the Shiite ghetto of East Baghdad, called Sadr City. He says that the cadres of Muqtada al-Sadr have set up checkpoints, set garbage and tires afire, and mobilized to keep the US out. The move comes in response to two raids by US forces that killed 18 militiamen and snatched Amr Husaini and Amjad al-Suwaidi, two supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr who are important to his political organization in East Baghdad. Six other members were also captured.
AFP noted, ‘ The US military killed 19 members of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia in Baghdad on Sunday after arresting two key aides in a midnight raid. Eighteen were killed in one clash when US troops moved in after militiamen began setting up checkpoints in Sadr City, the military said. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director of the coalition, told reporters that three Iraqi police and six civilians were also killed in bomb and gun attacks in the capital. They included a roof-top attack on a police patrol by four black-clad militiamen. ‘
The US also moved deeper, with tanks and armored humvees, into the small city of Kufa than ever before. The city saw fierce fighting Sunday for two full hours, with four Iraqis killed and 12 injured, including 4 children. Three homes were destroyed, and a kindergarten and school were damaged near the Kufa grand mosque. AFP reports, ‘Two young boys along with their father were injured when a projectile hit their home which is behind the Muslim bin Aqeel shrine, part of the mosque complex, according to their mother. ‘ CPA and US military figures seem to think that Kufa is not a holy city for Shiites, but they should be aware that it very much is.
US forces in the center of the shrine city of Karbala battled Mahdi Army militiament loyal to Muqtada on Sunday, with two militiamen killed and two seriously wounded. It is touchy for the US to be fighting in the midst of a holy shrine city like this, but the Mahdi Army is not liked in Karbala and this gives the US some leeway with the other Shiites.
The problem with the strategy of gradually encroaching on Muqtada’s organization in its various southern strongholds is that his cadres might think up counter-strategies. Trying to draw the British in, as they did in Amara and Basra on Saturday, and using the impenetrability of urban slums for cover are two they have come up with so far.
It should be noted that the Sadrist movement was established by Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999) under the nose of Saddam Hussein and all those Baathist spies. It was possible precisely because an area like Sadr City is hard for outsiders to penetrate. It is a set of Shiite clans, all of whom have come from the countryside since about 1961 (when Madinat al-Thawrah or Revolution Township was established by Col. Abdel Karim Qasim). They could detect Tikriti Sunni outsiders, and closed ranks against them. Just as the Sadrists were able to operate despite Saddam’s opposition, they will retain some freedom of movement in the face of US crackdowns, as well. The Sadrist movement cannot be destroyed, and certainly killing Muqtada will not destroy it (just as Saddam’s assassination of Muqtada’s father did not).
Many conservative commentators are crowing that the other Shiite groups are helping the US deal with the Sadrists. What is really happening is that the other major Shiite leaders all along have cut the Sadrists out of the process, and the US has consistently been manipulated by them in this regard. Now they are trying to use US troops to finish off Muqtada’s militia while they try to find a way to convince Muqtada to surrender himself. The danger here is in alienating and excluding a very large number of Shiites, while including and favoring Shiite political leaders who have much smaller followings than Muqtada does. Down the road, this policy could backfire badly on the US and on the caretaker government.