Thousands March against US, UK in Iran
Molotov Cocktails thrown at UK Embassy
Heavy fighting continued on Wednesday between the Mahdi Army in Karbala, which was firing from the shrine of Imam Husain, and US troops. The US admitted to having used an AC-130 to fire on militiamen near the shrine on Monday. Meanwhile, several hundred young men answered the call of Muqtada al-Sadr and travelled to Najaf to demonstrate in front of the shrine of Imam Ali (this takes real courage, since lots of armed Sadr supporters have been killed in that vicinity by the US lately).
The other shoe has now dropped. The BBC is reporting that several thousand angry protesters came out on Wednesday in Tehran to denounce the continued US military operations in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. (Iran is a largely Shiite country of some 70 million, and many Shiites go on pilgrimage to those shrines and treasure them as sacred). The demonstration got out of hand when one group of protesters broke off and headed for the UK embassy, hurling “petrol bombs” at its grounds. No one was hurt.
Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran of 1979, there has been a strong tradition of vigilanteism in radical Iranian Shiism. I can only think that if they become sufficiently enraged, substantial numbers of Revolutionary Guards, Basij and other semi-irregular fighters will begin slipping across the border into Iraq to hit US-associated soft targets. Although some observers have attempted to make the case that this phenomenon is already common, I haven’t seen good evidence for it on any kind of scale so far. The Sadrist movement of Muqtada al-Sadr is homegrown ghetto kids. But, it was always a possibility that Iranians would become radicalized by US encroachments on Shiite holy sites. The Iran-Iraq border is very long and rugged and would be impossible to police (even Saddam could not do it). Iranian vigilantes could also help smuggle in arms and explosives.
My advice to the White House is to get US troops and tanks out of Karbala tout de suite and stop bombing it aerially. Otherwise, the quagmire is going to spread to Iran and become 3 times bigger. An extra 4,000 troops stolen from the Korea division isn’t going to be sufficient to deal with that.
Meanwhile, the antiwar.com blogger asks why the Khaleej Times is reporting that 200 young followers of Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated outside the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Wednesday, if Sistani is the preeminent Shiite religious authority.
Think about Sistani as like an Episcopalian (Anglican) Bishop, and think of Muqtada al-Sadr as a much more popular David Koreish. Both are Protestants, but they wouldn’t agree about much, and Koreish’s followers had a suspiciously large stockpile of guns. Of course it is not an exact analogy. But you can see how an Episcopalian bishop like John Spong would speak for a lot of American Christians and be respected by them, whereas Koreish’s message would resonate mainly in sectarian circles like Christian Identity and maybe beyond to some evangelicals.