Sistani and al-Sadr: Demonstrations and Counter-Demonstrations
Mainstream Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the young sectarian leader Muqtada al-Sadr are now locked in a battle of wills, according to az-Zaman.
Several hundred Sistani supporters braved the dangerous streets of Karbala Wednesday to protest the continued battles near the shrine of Imam Husain and demanding that all combatants leave Karbala with their arms. Sistani had called for such demonstrations. Later in the day in Karbala, at least 7 Iraqis were killed and 13 were wounded on Tuesday night through Wednesday in clashes between the US and al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.. One of those killed was journalist Bassam al-Azzawi, who was covering the events there. Tanks spread through the city. It was deserted except for the one demonstration mentioned above.
Scheherezade Faramarzi of AP reports of Karbala: “Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S. military officials yesterday accused fighters loyal to Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr of firing on American forces from one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines. Sheik al-Sadr’s militia was operating from the Imam Hussein shrine in the center of Karbala, said Capt. Noel Gorospe, spokesman for the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division. “They use mainly the windows of the second floor of the shrine [to fire at troops],” Capt. Gorospe said at Camp Lima, a coalition base on the outskirts of Karbala. Insurgents were using small arms, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, and their use of the shrine was more noticeable in the past three days, he said. Witnesses said American troops and militiamen fought yesterday near a militia checkpoint 100 yards from another holy site in Karbala, the Imam Abbas shrine.”
About 300 supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, on the other hand (many of them apparently from elsewhere in Iraq and newly arrived) staged a rally in the center of Najaf protesting Sistani’s call for an end to armed hostilities in the holy city. AP reports that fighting started back up in Najaf, as well.
“In Najaf, about 50 miles south of Karbala, strong explosions could be heard late Wednesday along with the rattle of machine gun fire. Fighters from al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army were seen on the streets despite a call Tuesday by the premier Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, for both the Americans and the militia to vacate the city.”
az-Zaman says it was told by informed sources that the elders of the Sadrist movement begun by Muqtada’s father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, oppose Muqtada’s policies and his resort to armed violence. They are remaining silent, however, for fear of being killed by his partisans. The newspaper also received a communique signed by major clerics of Najaf condemning the gathering of extremists in the city and accusing Muqtada of having ordered that Sistani’s house be sprayed by machine gun fire.
Al-Hayat is reporting a breaking development, saying that US Coalition leaders have backed off their hard line toward Muqtada al-Sadr and are offering him a truce and direct negotiations. I’m not sure this overture is actually a backing off of Coalition demands that Muqtada surrender himself to Abu Ghuraib prison, something he obviously will never do. (Would you?)
Meanwhile, a US military commander in Kut is hiring members of the Mahdi Army who will put down their weapons to help rebuild an old and now rusted amusement park. They figure the men would rather earn a living than fight in a militia.
‘ “Call it ‘Six Flags Over Al Kut,’ ” quipped Col. Brad May, the regiment’s commander. ‘
Give that man a medal.