Heavy Fighting in Holy Cities
The Associated Press reports that
“American tanks and AC-130 gunships pounded insurgent positions near two shrines in the center of the holy city of Karbala early Friday, and the U.S. military said it killed 18 fighters loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The fighting began after insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. tanks patrolling Karbala’s so-called ”Old City,” said U.S. Army Col. Pete Mansoor of the 1st Armored Division. The tanks returned fire, and more than two hours of heavy fighting followed. Smoke billowed from burning buildings. A rebel weapons cache was hit, the military said. Much of the fighting was near the city’s Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines, which U.S. forces allege are being used by militiamen as firing positions or protective cover. Mansoor said the shrines were not damaged.”
Even if the shrines were not damaged, you can’t imagine how much Shiites don’t want to hear phrases like “American tanks and AC-130 gunships pounded insurgent positions near two shrines in the center of the holy city of Karbala early Friday . . . “ I cringed when I saw it. I don’t see how Iraqi Shiites are going to forgive us for this. Ever.
There was also more fighting in the other holy city, Najaf. Al-Hayat reports that Muqtada al-Sadr met with local tribal chieftains from Najaf and its environs, who gave him a letter asking his forces to vacate the holy places of Najaf. The letter threatened that if he did not do so voluntarily, the tribes are strong enough to kick him out.
See Omayma Abdel Latif in al-Ahram for analysis of Shiite politics at the moment. The threat, mentioned at the end, that Sistani might give up his quietism seemed chilling.