Baldauf Najaf Standoff Helped Muqtada

Baldauf: Najaf Standoff Helped Muqtada

CSM journalist Scott Baldauf, who has his ear to the ground in Iraq in a way that US officialdom seldom does, believes that Muqtada al-Sadr benefited politically from the recent standoff in Najaf. He writes,

‘ Six months ago, Sheikh Jawad al-Khalasi was what most would consider an Iraqi Shiite moderate. Critical of the militant ideas of fellow Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalasi preached a more cooperative approach toward the Americans and the interim Iraqi government.

Then, last Thursday, when Iraqi snipers opened fire on him and thousands of demonstrators converging on Najaf, hoping to end the siege there and protect the shrine, Khalasi changed his mind. Now he’s a radical, a troubling sign that Mr. Sadr has grown stronger from a three-week-long standoff that the Iraqi government once hoped might reduce Sadr to irrelevance. ‘

Meanwhile, fighting continued on Sunday in Iraq. The US bombed Fallujah yet again, and fought Mahdi Army militiamen in East Baghdad, killing 16 Iraqis during the two sets of clashes.

In downtown Baghdad, 250 Iraqis gathered to protest the ongoing US military actions in Iraq.

Another 35 Iraqis were wounded, and two guerrillas killed, in a clash between US forces and nationalists at Tel Afar in northern Iraq.

Dawn reports that

In Najaf Sunday morning, police raided an office of Grand Ayatollah Kadhim al-Husseini al-Hairi’s representative and arrested several men, according to his supporters. Al-Husseini al-Hairi is believed to be Al-Sadr’s mentor and he spent 25 years in the Iranian city of Kom.

Al-Husseini al-Hairi is more conservative than Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who managed to persuade Al-Sadr’s militia to withdraw from holy sites in Najaf on Friday. Also a spokesman for Al-Sadr in Basra told Arabic broadcaster al- Jazeera that Mahdi Army fighters were not responsible for an explosion at a pipeline near the southern oil fields of Rumeilah.

Actually, al-Haeri broke with Muqtada some time ago, and has denounced his use of an armed militia. So this raid on his offices has to do with something else. Al-Haeri is very anti-American, and it is likely just an attempt to curb any influence he may be building in Iraq, from which he has been exiled for decades, living in Qom, Iran.

In other Iraq news, the British also negotiated with Mahdi militiamen, in Basra, in an effort to end clashes with them there. Guerrillas blew up pipelines near Basra on Sunday, reducing Iraqi exports further.

And caretaker PM Iyad Allawi has signed an order abrogating the firing of Baath Party members in Iraq’s ministries. Massive de-Baathification, which left many Iraqis jobless, had been implemented by Allawi’s rival and distant cousin, Ahmad Chalabi.

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