Sistani vs. Muqtada vs. US in Najaf
Daniel Williams, Scott Wilson and Saad Sarhan of the Washington Post report on the new test of wills between the young sectarian leader Muqtada al-Sadr
“Sadr had invited all Iraqis to come to the southern city and support his uprising, which U.S. troops are struggling to contain. The revolt is one of several serious security issues that U.S. officials face before the scheduled transfer of limited authority to an Iraqi interim government on June 30. “So rise up my beloved people,” Sadr said in the statement issued by his office in Najaf. He called on “the people of great Iraq to express your opinion” in Najaf “as a reply to the serial violations, in order to be the best people for the best sacred shrines.”
In response, az-Zaman says, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani demanded on Wednesday that the Shiite holy cities Najaf and Karbala be cleared of weapons and that security be turned over to the Iraqi police. He also asked Iraqis to demonstrate against the fighting in these cities by gathering at mosques in their own localities.
He asked his followers from among the tribesmen of Najaf, Diwaniyah, al-Hillah, and Samawah not to come to Najaf to demonstrate or protect him, responding to their requests to come in. He said, “We call on the citizens not to head for Najaf, because of the seriousness of the security situation in the city.” He did ask that “all forms of arms must be expelled from the holy cities, and the police must be allowed to undertake their role in safeguarding security inside the cities.” He thanked the Iraqis “for their willingness to defend rights and sanctity.”
Tuesday night, 500 tribesmen from Shamiyah near Diwaniyah visited Sistani, expressing their regret for the incident in which his house was prayed with machine gun fire and saying they wer ready to defend it. Sources inside Sistani’s office said that the new statement was largely intended as criticism of the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Eyewitnesses in Najaf reported that fighters loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr attacked an American base on the outskirts of the city on Tuesday with mortar rounds. The eyewitnesses said that two tanks positioned around the main police station 2 kilometers from the Imam Ali shrine set out toward the base and received rocket propelled grenade fire. No casualties were reported.
Eyewitnesses in Karbala said that American troops and the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr clashed early in the morning and that 8 Iraqis were killed and 13 wounded. (Other source report 9 killed.) One of the fiercest battles occurred only 100 meters (yards) from the Shrine of Imam Husain. Mahdi Army militiamen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an American tank advancing on the city center.
Meanwhile, ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports that a truce has been concluded between the US military and the clan elders of Sadr City (the slums of East Baghdad). It stipulates that militiamen must stop carrying arms in public, and that the US will not attempt to send patrols into Sadr City for several days.
Asahi Shimbun reports that the fighting in Samawah has raised tough legal questions for the government of Junichiro Koizumi. Japanese Self Defence Forces can only be deployed abroad in non-combat zones, and there is growing question whether the southern city of Samawah fits that description. A reader writes from Japan:
“About 10 days ago, on a TBS newscast, we were treated to a government video
on Iraq. It showed Iraqi’s in SUV’s, with Iraqi and Japanese flags, (the
old Iraqi flag, and where did they those Japanese flags, are Japanese flags
just laying around in Iraq?) streaming out of the windows, screaming Japan
is great, drive up tohe gate, and present the Japanese colonel with a
bouquet of roses. The video went to show Japanese Defense Ministerr beaming
in Tokyo, “See what a good job we are doing in Iraq?!) After the video,
Japanese’s Chikushi Tetsuya (our equivilent of Walter Cronkite) went on to
explain that Japanese troops performed peacekeeping duties for 20 days in
March, and 10 days in April. It is not safe to go off base. A Japanese
reporter toured Al-Samawah. One year ago, he was welcomed and offered food.
Now people sullenly demanded, “Hey! Where is our electricity?”
Sam Dagher of Mideast-Online.com writes of how many ordinary Iraqis have begun seeing Muqtada as a Robin Hood figure or as playing David to the American Goliath.
For analysis see Rami El-Amine’s “The Shia Rise Up.”
A reader writes after a phone call to Najaf:
“Najaf appears to be a community filled “swing voters” right now. My friend told me of the planned big demonstration in Najaf two or three days ago. It was supposed to be a demonstration protesting against the actions of the US Army. People feel the occupation army is acting irresponsibly, by sealing off the city, indiscriminate bombing/grenading causing unrest. They´re ripping up the southern Iraq neutral stand! But so far they apparently haven’t moved into the core of Najaf.
The same night the demo was announced bombs went off/missiles were fired into streets/grenades lobbed there. (Take a pick because nobody seems really know for sure what it was or where from it originated ) To my informant it appeared to be a swift reaction to the fact that the demo was issued to start next day.
Next day, as the demo took off, rumours got out about car bombs and after a while this big demo dispersed.
People are really scared now. Electricity and water is gone due to bombing and clashes and the Americans are occupying the hospital between Najaf and Kufa. US Army claims shots were fired from that location so they sealed it off.
Now there´s just a private hospital inside Najaf working – a hospital that doesn´t perform so well as the public one. My informant has got a friend who used to work inside the public one, and he now was forced to move over (or volutarily moved over) to the smaller inner city hospital.
A lot of people – civilians – are caught wounded in clashes and bombings/grenading and hospital capacity is far from sufficient caused by the US hospital occupation. It seems being another “hospital move” like the Falluja one. Do you remember the Americans prohibiting people reaching the Jordanian hostpital outside Falluja?
The holy mosqe is slightly damaged. The big door and some damage on top of it. And people do not dare approach the vicinity. US Army suggests that ex-Baathists might be responsible for the damages. Armed people fire warning shots from inside and from nearby. A block attached to Sistanis office was bombed/grenaded/rocketed. Two of his guardmen are said to have been wounded. What’s going on? Anyway a lot of Najafis blame the Americans.
I was told that the murdered Dawa party member/head of Governing Council [Izzaddin Salim] visited Sistani recently. Now there is a [false] rumour in Najaf that he passed information to Sistani disadvantaging the Americans – and that´s why he was finished off – by the Americans!
Whatever facts and rumours – the Americans are swiftly causing divides inside Najaf. Siding with the “anti-occupation party” in this conflict I cannot stop myself thinking that this might be their aim right now. If so – how stupid.
Now, this is just a phone call, and as you put it, “a pinch of salt” should be added. ” ”