Attempted Assassinations of Ministers Fail
Iraqi Troops Move into Najaf: “We are in the Last Hours”
Reuters and AFP report via Dawn that the assassination attempt on the Minister of Education, reported here yesterday, was followed by another such attempt against the Minister of the Environment, Mishkat Moumin. Dawn quotes her:
‘ “Serving the Iraqi people is not a crime that deserves this,” an outraged Moumin said after the blast.
The attack shocked local residents. “I opened the door to leave for work and the blast knocked me over,” said Ali al Tai, standing in front of his home only metres from the blast site where Moumin was targeted, blood from victims splattered on his shirt. ‘
The Jordanian-led terrorist group, al-Tawhid, claimed credit for the attempt.
Meanwhile, the US continued to bombard Mahdi Army positions in Najaf, and to tighten their “squeeze” of the militiamen. Dawn writes,
‘The advance was carried out by 50 Iraqi servicemen and came after US helicopters fired missiles and strafed militants dug in at a cemetery near the mosque, where most of the fighters have holed up since the uprising in the city began three weeks ago.
A US soldier guided the men in. They were shot at by Mehdi militiamen and returned fire. “We are in the last hours. This evening, Iraqi forces will reach the doors of the shrine and control it and appeal to the Mehdi Army to throw down their weapons,” Defence Minister Hazim al Shalaan said at a US army base outside Najaf. “If they do not, we will wipe them out.” ‘
I saw Shaalan speaking in Arabic on al-Jazeerah, and he said, “If Muqtada al-Sadr will surrender himself, that would be superb. He will be given safe passage and treated with perfect respect. But if he refuses, he will face either death or prison.” or words to that effect. Obviously, the al-Hayat report that PM Iyad Allawi was trying to rein in Shaalan was incorrect; either that, or Shaalan has more pull with the Americans than Allawi does.
Some Sadr spokesmen rejected Shaalan’s offer, with one calling it “garbage.” Others seemed more conciliatory.
The Mahdi Army fighters appeared to be thinning out at the Shrine of Ali. Al-Jazeerah also had footage of the Iraqi army moving into position in the Old City of Najaf. Interestingly, the anchors were saying that the coming confrontation would be between two sets of Iraqis. I would have expected them to insist that the Iraqi forces were just American proxies, but at least on Wednesday evening EST that wasn’t their line.
Muslim political and religious figures continued to denounce the US actions in Najaf on Tuesday, as a form of desecration of a holy place. The speaker of Iran’s parliament said the actions were spreading hatred for the US in the region. Pakistani satellite tv said that the Pakistani senate had passed a resolution demanding that all foreign troops leave the holy city of Najaf. The Pakistani senate is a generally conservative body, dominated by landlords and by supporters of the pro-American “president,” Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf met Tuesday with Bosnian President Sulejman Tihic, who delivered a speech praising the United States for saving the Bosnian Muslims from certain genocide. So these aren’t reflexively anti-American political circles there in Islamabad, but the senators are disturbed by the American role in the Najaf events.
Muqtada and his main aides have disappeared from the shrine, as I had predicted they would. As I suggested, there are probably underground tunnels. Muqtada has plenty of safe houses in Iraq, since he eluded Saddam for four years, and he won’t be easy to find if he doesn’t want to be found.
My guess is that the Sadr Movement will now go into an active, long term guerrilla resistance. They will hope that bombings and assassinations will give heart to the public and provide a model for resisting what they see as the occupation. They will hope for an Algeria-style end game, in which the Americans and British are tossed out of Iraq. The drawback for the Mahdi Army is that they are just untrained Shiite ghetto youth, with perhaps a few older vets among them, and their ability to wage an effective guerrilla struggle is untested. So far they have fought far more stupidly than the resistance fighters in the Sunni Arab areas, attempting to take and hold territory and behaving like a mainstream army but without the necessary skill set.
If they move in this direction, they will at least have moral support of a wide range of Sunni and Shiite clerics, who jointly called for all Muslims to support the resistance to what they call the US occupation of Iraq. The signatories include prominent figures in the Sunni Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, in Lebanon’s Shiite Hizbullah, and in Yemen’s Sunni fundamentalist movement. Most of the clerics signing the call want an Islamic state in their country, with Islamic law the law of the land, and so can be called fundamentalists. But most of them are not radicals in the sense of wanting a violent and immediate revolution. Some, like Yusuf Qaradawi, explicitly permitted Muslims to fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan in the US military or alongside it. But Qaradawi and the others see Iraq in a different light, as an Arab, Muslim society that has been colonized by an outside force, the US.
The low intensity guerrilla fighting in Amara against the British base, which left at least 12 dead and 54 wounded there, may be a sign of things to come. There were also clashes in the southern oil port of Basra.