223 dead, 500 wounded in clashes across Iraq
US marines launch major assault on Najaf
The headline, which is perfectly serviceable, is ripped off from a Pakistani newspaper mainly based on Agence France Presse reporting. The story was put to bed before a lot of the Arab newspapers came out Friday morning, so it underestimates the number of casualties.
US Marines launched a major offensive in Najaf on Thursday. In ensuing clashes, 148 persons were killed and 500 wounded. They took the city center, and blocked the roads leading to the shrine of Ali. The US used war planes and Apache helicopters to bombard the cemetery adjacent to the shrine.
According to AFP, deputy governor of Najaf, Jawdat Kadhim Najam al-Quraishi, resigned in protest against the assault, saying, “I resign from my post denouncing all the US terrorist operations that they are doing against this holy city.”
Remember that al-Quraishi had been appointed by the Americans and earlier had been willing to risk assassination by serving in a government perceived by insurgents as an American puppet.
Al-Hayat reports that about half of the provincial council members for Najaf governorate have resigned in protest, as well.
It also says that the representative in Karbala of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called on US troops to depart Najaf. He wants a peaceful, negotiated settlement. Note that Sistani’s people often deeply dislike Muqtada and his thugs. But here uneasiness about a Western desecration of the holy city has trumped such negative feelings toward Muqtada.
The US Air Force bombed Kut overnight, killing some 84 persons and wounding about 176, according to the Al-Zahra Hospital. Kut is a Shiite city of 420,000 southeast of Baghdad and east of Najaf, which has seen fighting between Mahdi Army militiamen and police. The Kut hospital director, Khidr Fadl Arar, said that many of the dead and wounded were women and children.
According to Police colonel Salam Fakhri, the bombing began at 1:00 am Thursday and continued until 3:00 am. He said,
“The bombing was concentrated in Al Sharkia district as the US military felt there were a lot of Shi’ite militiamen in that area. It also has an office of (radical Shi’ite Muslim cleric and militia chief) Moqtada Al Sadr.”
I hadn’t heard anything about US warplanes bombing Kut on US television news on Thursday. It is useless, but I would like to point out that bombarding al-Sharqiyyah district because it has Mahdi Army fighters is inhumane and probably illegal. Civilians live there, and they will inevitably be hurt by the bombing. Unfortunately, there are no mechanisms for enforcing international law. Apparently, the American public will not even be told by their mass media that the US is behaving in this way.
Later on Thursday, Mahdi Army fighters attacked and set afire the al-Balda police station. They killed one policeman and wounded nine others. Iraq’s interior ministry maintained that police had arrested 100 Mahdi Army militiamen on Thursday. In the past few days, Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan announced, Iraqi police had killed, captured or wounded 400 militiamen.
James Brandon and Ian Johnston of the Scotsman say that some three thousand supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr marched through the streets to protest the US campaign in Najaf. They write:
‘ Describing the protest, Sqdn Ldr Wilson said: “It was quite low key in fact. We believe there were about 3,000 people there. They demonstrated in a well-ordered manner and they dispersed around about midday, local time.” He said the demonstration and the attack were entirely separate.
The protesters chanted, “Long live Sadr, America and Allawi are infidels.” [A reader writes in, “The chanting at the protest at Basra was [in actuality] “aash aash aash assadir, allawi wa al-majlis kufr” [Long live Sadr, Allawi and the Council are infidelity] — obviously referring to SCIRI.”
The British troops have ceased patrolling Basra regularly. The Mahdi Army has occupied many important buildings throughout the city. They are also fortifying their positions
However, some of those involved in the demonstration tried to rally supporters to resist an expected British counter-attack to recapture the city centre which fell to Sadr’s al-Madhi army on Monday.
Brandon talked to “a militant” in Basra, who said the following:
“If the British try and cross the bridge, we will attack them . . . The latest fighting is not because of us. It is because we are fed up with the occupation,” he added. “The thing that changed our minds about the Americans was Abu Ghraib, and when we discovered that America does not care for human rights and their army does not respect the differences between soldiers and civilians . . . A year ago, the British came to Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein and we gave them the opportunity to develop Iraq. But in fact nothing has changed. Now there is no electricity, no water and even fewer jobs than before.”
Meanwhile, guerrillas employed a roadside bomb to kill one Scottish soldier and injure another while they were on patrol.
Fighting in Baghdad, mostly in the eastern slums of Sadr City, left 44 persons dead and 164 wounded, according to the Iraqi health ministry.
There was a protest march in Baghdad similar to that in Basra.
In west Baghdad, a helicopter crash Wednesday night killed two US Marines and wounded three others. The helicopter had been flying in support of military operations in al-Anbar province.
Guerrillas attacked a police car in Mosul late Wednesday with machine gun fire, killing four persons, including a child and two policemen.