Mahdi Army Fights on in Najaf, Sadr City
The US military pounded Mahdi Army positions in the vast cemetery of Najaf again on Tuesday, with artillery and aerial bombardment. The Americans also began asking the civilian population (ordinarily nearly half a million strong) to leave the city, spurring fears that the US planned another massive assault. The suqs or traditional markests of downtown Najaf have already been reduced to rubble by US bombings.
The US military actions in the holy city of Najaf are deeply offensive to Muslims throughout the world. Although many might also criticize Sadr and his militia for using the holy sites as cover, the strongest condemnation inevitably is reserved for the foreign troops, seen as imperialists.
Ironic quote of the Day: “We will not allow them to continue to desecrate this sacred site . . . ” said Colonel Anthony Haslam, commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. (This is after the US dropped bombs on the cemetery, which contains the dead relatives of Shiite Muslims from all over the world, but especially Iraq).
One of Iraq’s vice presidents, Ibrahim Jaafari, called Tuesday for the US Marines to withdraw from the holy city of Najaf, which, he said, is sacred to all the Muslims of the world in general and to Shiites in particular. Jaafari is a leader of the Shiite al-Da’wa Party, Iraq’s oldest and largest surviving party, which is likely to do very well when and if there are parliamentary elections. Jaafari speaks for the Shiite majority in Iraq in these sentiments in a way that hardline Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib (a Sunni ex-Baathist) or PM Iyad Allawi (a secular Shiite ex-Baathist) do not.
Doug Struck of the Washington Post reports that Mahdi Army militiamen took over some Baghdad neighborhoods on Tuesday, especially in Sadr City:
Supporters of the militant Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr challenged authorities in Baghdad on Tuesday by setting up makeshift checkpoints and attacking police stations in a bid to widen a confrontation centered in the southern city of Najaf. An official at the Health Ministry said 10 people were killed here and more than 100 wounded. Gunmen briefly asserted control of some Baghdad neighborhoods and called for a curfew over the entire city . . . Residents of several neighborhoods said streets emptied when members of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Sadr, came through, apparently unchallenged by the police.
Heavy clashes were reported in Baghdad’s Mansour district, and there were numerous mortar strikes in Baghdad on Tuesday morning, many of them targeting police stations and government buildings.