Hostage-Taking, Demonstrations in Najaf and Karbala
In the holy city of Najaf, Shiite militiamen of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army took 18 policemen hostage, in hopes of forcing them to release jailed colleagues of theirs. The hostage-taking is probably also meant to remind local Iraqi security forces that it is dangerous for them to cooperate with US Marines seeking to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr himself, as they did on Monday.
Al-Hayat says that tension is high in Karbala and Najaf between police and Mahdi Army fighters, and that the American-appointed governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi, is blaming Iran for backing the Mahdi Army fighters, who he says are loyal to Iran. This charge is just propaganda–the Sadr movement actually resents Iranian dominance of Shiism, and the pro-US Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq has traditionally been closer to Iran than al-Sadr.
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports that about 1,000 Sadrists demonstrated in Karbala, demanding the release of Shaikh Mithal al-Hasnawi, who was recently arrested by the Marines. The protesters said that it was an insult to Iraq for foreign occupiers to be allowed to incarcerate a symbol of Iraqi religion and nation. In Najaf, Sadr spokesman Shaikh Ahmad al-Shaibani condemned the attempt of the US Marines to arrest Muqtada on Monday, saying that they wanted to jail him because he is a symbol of Iraqi resistance to foreign Occupation.
The US military is denying that it tried to arrest Muqtada, saying they suddenly came under fire as they patrolled near his house. Knight Ridder quotes a Marine spokesman,
‘ “Until we learn the side streets, we won’t know where Sadr lives. And until we do, we’ll run into things,” said 1st Lt. Mike Wyrsch of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The unit took command of the area only on Saturday. ‘
Actually, I find this statement entirely plausible, but also very depressing. The Marines sent in to patrol Najaf aren’t told where the touchy areas are? This incident is further proof that the US military has no idea how to do community policing and shouldn’t be being deployed for this purpose.