US Attack “Uncivilized”: Jafari
Fresh Violence in Sadr City
15 US Soldiers Wounded, 3 Dead in recent Fighting
Before I go over the details, here is my reading of what is going on in Najaf. The truce between the Mahdi Army and US/ Iraqi forces broke down because they had different ideas of what the truce entailed. US-appointed governor Adnan al-Zurufi had demanded that the Mahdi Army disarm and/or leave Najaf. Muqtada al-Sadr on the other hand interpreted the truce to entail limiting his militia’s activities to certain areas of the city and to have them avoid clashes with police and US troops.
In the past few weeks, the Mahdi Army has ensconced itself in the vast cemetery in Najaf, the crypts and stone walls of which afford excellent cover, and it has been stockpiling arms there.
Al-Zurufi became increasingly frustrated about the delay in disarming the militia, and the evidence that it was digging in and trying to consolidate its control over parts of the city.
Then the US army moved out of Najaf and was replaced with the Marines, the commander of which may have been more militant than his army predecessor.
Al-Zaman reported last week that Marines had surrounded Muqtada’s house and perhaps attempted to arrest him. There was a second such incident on Tuesday, though the Marines denied both. It may be that they thought the Mahdi Army was sufficiently weakened so that they could finally arrest Muqtada. He eluded them, however.
The Najaf police began arresting Mahdi Army fighters, and the Mahdi Army began taking police hostage in retaliation. Al-Zurufi was alarmed at his police being humiliated, and called in the Marines to take on the Mahdi Army, sparking the recent fighting. Al-Zurufi has decided to try to fight Muqtada and the Mahdi Army to the bitter end, using the Marines. Since al-Zurufi was brought in by the Americans (he is old-time al-Da’wa Party, and was in exile in Dearborn, where he appears to have been unemployed, before he suddenly emerged recently as the US appointee over Najaf. This profile suggests that he was a CIA asset and has been brought in in part to deal with Muqtada).
One problem with an all-out attack on the Mahdi Army was that it might endanger the life of, or meet opposition from, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He was therefore spirited out of Najaf on the pretext that he had heart problems. But Al-Zaman reports today that Sistani stopped off in Beirut on his way to London, where he met with moderate Shiite leader Nabih Berri of the AMAL party, who serves as Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament. Sistani then went on to London, but is not in hospital and won’t be for at least a week. This story just does not square with him being so ill that he had to be airlifted to London for emergency heart treatment. It would not have been easy for al-Zurufi and the Americans to convince Sistani to leave, but they could have simply shared with him their plans to have an all-out war in Najaf, and told him they could not protect him. That would have left him no choice but to leave. If you think about it, he could not possibly have been gotten out of Najaf to Beirut and London without US military assistance, though he flew a private plane from Baghdad airport.
Al-Hayat reports that Sistani’s reason for leaving at this juncture was to remove himself from the scene of the fighting and to lift the mantle of his authority from the Sadrist movement. It was alleged that his distance from Muqtada, always substantial, had widened further in recent weeks. Al-Hayat suspects that if Sistani has ceased trying to protect Muqtada, it could mean that a decision has been made to put an end to him.
So, I think al-Zurufi and the Americans sat down and planned the crackdown on the Mahdi Army. (It may be that the caretaker government of Iyad Allawi and especially hardline Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib spurred al-Zurufi on.) I also think Muqtada sat down and planned out how to keep the Mahdi Army ensconced in Najaf (which is not their natural territory) despite the truce. Neither side had realistic expectations of the truce, or was sincerely committed to any sort of compromise that would be acceptable to the other side.
Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim Jafari, a leader of the Shiite al-Da`wa Party, vehemently criticized the US military in a BBC interview on Friday, after the Marines announced that they had killed 300 Iraqis in heavy fighting Thursday and Friday. AFP quoted him,
saying the reported deaths of 300 insurgents in Najaf was “not a civilised way” to rebuild his nation. “Of course, when I hear of the deaths of Iraqi civilians, I cannot find any justification for the killings,” Jafari, on an official visit to London, told BBC television`s “Newsnight” programme. “So my reaction (to US claims of 300 insurgents killed in Najaf) is negative,” he added. “I think that killing Iraqi citizens is not a civilised way of building the new Iraq, which is based on protecting people and promoting dialogue, not bullets.” . . . But Jafari appeared to criticise Zorfi for his initiative, saying: “I think decisions like this should have been taken centrally… in Baghdad” rather than locally. The vice president also said that, being abroad, he was unable to say whether the United States had sought authorisation from the fledgling Iraqi government before launching its assault on Najaf. “Maybe this is what happened, or maybe not,” he said. “But I am not aware of the details of such an agreement.”
Rory McCarthy of the Guardian achieves a balanced account of the crisis. He reports of Basra on Friday,
At midday prayers at the mosque controlled by the Sadr movement in Basra yesterday, Sheikh Assad al-Basri had to control a crowd of several hundred worshippers as they shouted “To jihad!” In April, Basra was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting. Yesterday two British army Land Rovers waited a short distance away. This time the cleric told the men to be ready but to wait. He said they should fight those who tried to destroy their religion, and ridiculed the “great devil, America”. He told the crowd: “We don’t want American Islam.”
The Pakistan Times does a good job of summarizing all the various wire reports about the crisis in Iraq.
Fires burned out of control in Najaf, where streets were deserted in the wake of the worst fighting the city has seen since Saddam put down the revolt of spring, 1991. Marines launched a massive assault on Sadr forces in the vast, sacred cemetery behind the shrine of Ali, where they had been hiding out in crypts. The emotional impact on Shiites is similar to what Americans would feel if a foreign power bombed Arlington cemetery. The US also reportedly fired tank shells into hotels being used as safe houses by Mahdi Army militiamen (the hotels usually house pilgrims to the shrines).
The only way the US could kill 300 Iraqis in two days, if that is the right number, would be by massive and indiscriminate use of firepower that disregarded civilian life. (And, no, the Mahdi Army militiamen don’t care about innocent life at all). Some 13 civilians were killed and 58 wounded on Friday in Najaf.
The American-appointed governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi, insisted that the Mahdi Army leave Najaf completely within twenty-four hours. He said, “We believe that the end of the military operations is dependent on the exit of the armed militias from Najaf.”
Al-Hayat reports that four rockets struck the house in Najaf of Grand Ayatollah Bashir Najafi, a colleague and possible successor of Sistani. His spokesman declined to say whether Najafi was in the house at the time, but did say the rockets did substantial damage.
There were also clashes all day in the slums of East Baghdad or “Sadr City,” where 14 US troops were wounded by Friday afternoon, with 20 Iraqis killed and 114 wounded.
Sadr spokesman Mahmoud al-Sudani said, “We call upon the government — that has announced that it is sovereign — to intervene to stop the American attacks.”
The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which has been willing to cooperate with the United States despite its hardline views, and which has a rivalry with the Sadrists, said that it was trying to negotiate an end to the fighting. Ammar al-Hakim of SCIRI said, ‘ “We are sparing no effort to reach a peaceful settlement by opening a direct dialogue between Muqtada al-Sadr’s representatives on the one hand and the transitional government on the other.”
Guerrillas also attacked a US convoy in Samarra, a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad. There is a small Shiite community there, but this attack was probably Sunni radicals. Two Iraqis were killed and 16 injured, and two houses were destroyed.
In Amarah in the south, British troops supported by tanks fought Mahdi Army guerrillas who had taken over 4 police stations, and recaptured the “main” ones.
Clashes in Nasiriyah between Italian troops and the Mahdi Army left 5 militiamen dead and 13 injured. The Italian troops emerged unscathed.
The report says of Basra:
Assailants also attacked a police station in the southern city of Basra and the City Hall there, police Capt. Mushtaq Talib said. The violence wounded three police and five civilians, hospital officials said. Violence in Basra since Thursday killed five al-Sadr fighters, said As’ad al-Basri, an al-Sadr official in the city.
An “Iraqi official” fed al-Hayat some cock and bull conspiracy theory that tried to tie Muqtada, al-Qaeda, Fallujah, Zaraqawi and Iran all together into a tight terrorist network stretching from the Jordanian border throughout Iraq and into Iran. This attempt to relate all this movements or imply Muqtada is al-Qaeda would be hilarious if it were not so tragic. Zarqawi hates Shiites and Muqtada has threatened him; they aren’t on the same side.