Sadrists Launch Wider Insurgency in South
az-Zaman Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers Monday to widen the scope of their military operations against the Coalition to the entirety of Iraq, in an attempt to escalate the military situation after the breakdown of negotiations aimed at mediating between Muqtada and the Coalition. They foundered on the Coalition demand that Muqtada surrender himself for trial. Informed sources in Najaf told az-Zaman that the escalation came in part as a response to the grand ayatollahs and other high Shiite authorities, some of whom had threatened to have the Mahdi Army forcibly disarmed if they didn’t put down their guns voluntarily.
Battles raged between Mahdi Army fighters and US forces in the environs of the al-Faqir Quarter of East Baghdad both before and after the US employed helicopter gunships to demolish al-Sadr’s headquarters there. (I continue to maintain that firing a missile from a helicopter gunship into an inhabited building in Baghdad is a violation of the basic international law of occupation). Some 35 Sadrists were killed in East Baghdad in recent clashes altogether, as that part of the capital has gone out of the control of the Americans altogether. East Baghdad boiled with fury at the Americans, especially since some of the wounded were innocent bystanders.
In Kut, clashes between Sadrists and the Marines led to the deaths of 21 Mahdi Army militiamen.
In Kufa, fighting between the two sides produced 21 deaths among the Sadrists. The Mahdi Army spread out through Kufa establishing checkpoints. The US set up a siege of the city.
Guerrillas subjected the governor’s headquarters north of Najaf to Katyusha rocket and to mortar fire fire, inflicting substantial damage on the building. (The US recently installed a new governor, al-Dhurufi, from the Da’wa Party, who had been in exile in Chicago and Detroit).
The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq appears to be planning a massive rally on Friday in Najaf, which American officers fear may spark massive violence and draw them into fighting in the sacred center of the city.
Muqtada is now offering a $350 reward to anyone who informs on an “agent” among the Shiites of the Coalition.
It seems to me as though the Sadrist insurgency is likely to just go on in one form or another for months or years. That is, I think Bush’s decision to go after the Sadrists has thrown parts of the Shiite south into the same low grade guerrilla conflict mode as has dogged the center-north for the past year.
The US military is fighting the Sadrists as though they were a rival army. They are not. The fighters may be relatively small in number, but the cadres (who are all potential fighters) run to the tens of thousands, and followers to the hundreds of thousands. This is a movement, and it is not possible to make it disappear by mere military operations. The latter can curb the paramilitary aspect of the movement, but that is a relatively small part of it, and can easily be reconstituted. (Residents of East Baghdad were already busy repairing the Sadrist HQ that was destroyed on Monday).
‘“A group of armed Iraqis calling themselves Al-Taf Martyrs Brigades, meanwhile, threatened to kidnap and murder workers employed by foreign companies around Basra, in a videotape broadcast today by al-Jazeera television . . .
Iraq’s rebuilding efforts suffered a major setback as Sunday’s blast halved loading of exports from 80,000 barrels per hour, according to engineer Ali Nasr al-Rubai, the terminal’s director.” About a fourth of Iraq’s exports were affected.