Thousands Stream to Najaf
Thousands of Shiites are streaming toward Najaf in hopes of forming a human shield around Muqtada al-Sadr, according to al-Hayat. Many have already gathered at the gates to the old city in Najaf and around the shrine of Imam Ali.
In the meantime, the Allawi government says it intends to send an Iraqi military force into the shrine of Ali after Muqtada al-Sadr and his militiamen, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat. Allawi should be careful. A colleague of mine was reminded of a similarity between the current situation and the Indian government raid on the Sikh Golden Temple in 1984. That invasion of holy space arguably led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi and prolonged civil instability in the Punjab.
The Americans launched attacks (many of them by air) on guerrillas in Hilla, Samarra and Ramadi, claiming to have killed over 100 of them. The BBC says:
In Hilla there were fierce clashes involving Sadr supporters and local police – Iraqi officials said that three police and at least 40 militiamen were killed.
In the Sunni stronghold of Samarra, US planes carried out air strikes, killing about 50 insurgents, according to the US military. Local accounts put the number of dead at between five and 12. [For more on Samarra, scroll down.]
In Falluja, US planes bombed several houses on Saturday, killing five civilians and wounding eight others, doctors at the Sunni city’s hospital said. The US military has not commented.
Two US troops were killed in al-Anbar province on Saturday.
A big convoy of aid arrived in Najaf from Fallujah, and the Sunni clerics and clan elders who brought it met with Shiite clergymen in Najaf on Saturday, expressing their solidarity with the city in the face of the American assault.
Muqtada and his spokesmen called for a United Nations investigation into the American attack on Najaf, and for a UN force to take control of the Shiite holy city.
Arab newspapers don’t usually say so, but the other side of the story is that Muqtada’s militiamen are narrow-minded, thug-like puritans who impose their power on civilians by coercion. I don’t think it is a decisive datum that the people of Najaf largely despise the “Mahdi Army” and Muqtada and want them out of the city, because Muqtada’s social and political base lies elsewhere. It isn’t that he doesn’t have one.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat does quote a frustrated Iraqi bureaucrat complaining that Muqtada makes contradictory demands and seems to just want his militia to run the coutnry. He said that Muqtada at one point will say that the Iraqi government should resign. Then he will say Iraq needs to build its national army. But how could the government build a national army if it resigned?