Riot at Imam Ali Shrine; Clashes in Sadr City
al-Hayat and ash-Sharq al-Awsat:
Sadr City: A Sadrist spokesman said late Friday that one Mahdi Army militiaman was killed and several others were wounded in clashes with American forces in Sadr City, Baghdad. Reuters television footage showed Muqtada’s fighters firing machine guns and tossing hand grenades at American troops, who replied by calling in attack helicopters to open fire on insurgent positions in the Shiite slum. All this happened early morning on Friday. A Sadrist clergyman, Shaikh Nasir al-Sa’idi, preaching at the al-Hikmah mosque, warned nations considering joining the multinational force in Iraq that they will be treated the same way the present occupiers are treated. “We will not permit any state to send its troops to Iraq, and we will deal with any state that supports the occupation as an occupier.” He attacked the caretaker Iraqi government for asking that Coalition troops stay in the country, saying that even some European countries had called for their withdrawal. He asked whether this government is actually capable of holding free and fair elections. He also cast doubt on the loyalty of the Kurdish ministers and officials to PM Iyad Allawi, saying that they still looked for guidance to the Kurdish leadership, so that this government has multiple centers of power.
Kufa: At the Friday prayers at the Kufa Mosque, Shaikh Jabir al-Khafaji preached in the stead of Muqtada al-Sadr, reading the latter’s prepared sermon for the third week in a row. During the sermon, he mentioned that Muqtada al-Sadr would support the caretaker government if it demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of Occupation forces from Iraq. He emphasized his “refusal to kowtow to the Occupiers.” He advised the Mahdi Army to make themselves a firm shield for the Shiite religious leadership, and Shiism, and Islam, and for all of them to turn to God. He said, “America has injured minority rights in appointing the caretaker government.” (This last sentence seems to be a play for Kurdish sympathy, which is odd since Muqtada has often atacked Kurdish plans for semi-autonomy and for annexing Kirkuk. )
The wire services are misinterpreting this statement as an about-face on Muqtada’s part. It is not. It is a piece of bargaining. He is saying that he will swing the Sadrist movement around to support the transitional government if it will commit to throwing the Americans out of Iraq on a strict timetable. That is what Muqtada has wanted since the fall of Saddam. He started calling for a US withdrawal in April, 2003. It seems probable that one reason the Americans came after Muqtada in early April, intending to kill him, was fear that he will become powerful enough after June 30 to lobby effectively for the expulsion of the Americans. (Mahdi Army militiamen looted and burned a Najaf police station after the police attempted to arrest an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr. Although US-installed Najaf governor Adnan Zurufi accused the Mahdi Army of breaking the truce, it is hard to see how the attempted arrest was consistent with a truce. Zurufi is probably egged on in these matters by Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, but note that the US offered him no help on Friday. I think it is a legitimate demand that militias not appear in the streets armed. I’m not sure trying to arrest Muqtada’s aides is so legitimate.