Najaf Calming; Police to be Trained in Urban Warfare
Al-Hayat reports that previous disputes between Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and junior cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have now been completely resolved. One last step has been the appointment of a new prayer leader at the mosque connected to the shrine of Ali, who would be neither a follower of al-Sadr nor a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The new incumbent is Sayyid Muhammad Rida al-Ghurayfi, a seminary professor close to Grand Ayatollah Sistani. In summer of 2003 the Sadrists and SCIRI had fought for control of the shrine in Najaf, and SCIRI won. In the past month, the preaching there of Shaikh Sadr al-Din al-Qubanji of SCIRI has caused turmoil with the Sadrists in the congregation, producing at least one major riot at the mosque. On one occasion about three weeks ago, al-Qubanji criticized Iran in his sermon for not condemning Muqtada and his militiamen for fighting at the shrine with the Americans and so desecrating it, and was not allowed to continue. Afterwards shots were fired in his direction. More recently there was a big altercation between SCIRI and Sadr supporters that prevented Friday prayers from being held at all.
An al-Sadr spokesman said Muqtada is considering a proposal that he attend the national congress slated for the end of July. An Iraqi official clarified that no one has yet been invited to the actual congress, where 1000 notables will elect 100 persons to an advisory council to advise Prime Minister Allawi. (This congress was Lakhdar Brahimi’s idea–he felt it would give a wide swathe of Iraqi political society a sense of participation in the caretaker government). But there is a preparatory committee planning the congress, and Ali Sumaysim of the al-Sadr movement has been invited to serve on this committee, according to organizer Fuad Masum.
Australian Broadcasting reports that a hard core of Mahdi Army militiamen still holds the shrine of Ali in Najaf, but that the US military has decided against trying to go in and sweep them out. (Good move.) The young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his militiamen to leave Najaf, and substantial numbers have, but the US military fears that some may form sectarian groups and defy Muqtada. (This possibility is real; the Sadrists who follow Muqtada’s father already have several sects or parties among them). The hard core Mahdi Army fighters have nothing but contempt for the transitional government of Iyad Allawi, seeing it as a tool of Washington. In response to continued insecurity in Najaf, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus (the one certified hero to come out of the higher ranks of US officers in Iraq) is committing to giving Najaf police training in urban warfare and to providing them with rocket propelled grenades and flack jackets.
Al-Hayat says that Shaikh Ahmad Shaibani, a spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, gave the newspaper the following statement: “Sayyid Muqtada will not form a mobile political party, and will not join any of the parties now existing on the Iraqi scene at the present time, nor will he throw his support behind any of them.” He rejected the idea of folding the Army of the Mahdi into the Iraqi army, emphasizing that “The Mahdi Army is not an organized army, but rather popular groups that resist the occupation. Its members will return to the pursuit of their daily, natural lives when the Occupation ends.” He said he was prepared “to help the forces of the police and army to keep order in Najaf and other Iraqi cities.” He said that “The decree dissolving the militias was stillborn” and said he thought it was unlikely that it would be implemented at the present time. Mssrs. Bremer and Allawi have attempted on more than one occasion to dissolve the militias in the country, but with no success.