Sadrists Clash With Police In

Sadrists Clash with Police in Nasiriyah
Baghdad Sunni Mosque Protest
Ramadi Demonstrations against Koran Desecration

Thousands of protesters rallied in Iraq (some reports say 6,000) on Friday denouncing the continued US military presence in the country. Many of the demonstrators in the south were followers of nationalist Shiite young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and they were protesting the desecration of the Koran by the United States military.

Some three thousand demonstrators also came out in Sunni Ramadi to protest reports that US military interrogators had desecrated the Koran, according to Waleed Ibrahim of Reuters. He quotes one of the activists at Ramadi: “‘Political solutions are over and military solutions will start. We will die rather than accept the desecration of our Holy Book and the detention of our women,’’ said Samir al-Dulaimi, head of the Muslim Clerics Association in Anbar province, during the protest.”

In Najaf, Kufa and Nasiriyah, followers of Muqtada had painted US and Israeli flags on the ground in the way to mosques, so that worshippers trampled on them as they headed to worship. After prayers at the Kufa mosque, crowds chanted, “Down, down, with Israel; down, down with the USA!” In Najaf, there was a demonstration (either the same one or another, separate rally) against Kuwait for broadcasting last Monday a clip of Lebanese songstress Nancy Ajram singing and dancing before a backdrop that included the image of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

In Nasiriyah, the demonstrations took an ugly turn when Sadr militiamen clashed with local police, leaving four policemen, four civilians, and nine Sadr supporters wounded. Al-Zaman says that one of their motivations was to protest the US desecration of the Koran. AP neglects this detail, but explains:

In Nasiriyah, about 320km south-east of Baghdad, al-Sadr supporters clashed with guards at the headquarters of Dhi Qar provincial Governor Aziz Abed Alwan. The fighting broke out before noon as about 2 000 members of al-Sadr’s al-Mehdi Army marched toward the cleric’s local office, which is near the governor’s headquarters. Armed men guarding the headquarters shot toward the crowd in an apparent bid to disperse it, prompting retaliatory fire from al-Sadr supporters — injuring four police officers and four civilians. Another nine al-Sadr supporters were injured, said Sheik al-Khafaji, an official at al-Sadr’s Nasiriyah office.

Al-Zaman said that the number of those injured in the Sadrist clash, including 4 policemen, was much higher, putting it at 89. It said the figure of “9” quoted above referred only to Mahdi Army militiamen.

In Baghdad’s Kazimiyah quarter, national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie was the target of assassination by car bomb. He escaped, but the bomb killed two civilians and wounded 3.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Shiite), called for calm and self-restraint in the face of provocations to sectarian violence. (al-Zaman).

Sunni clerics in Baghdad called in their Friday prayers sermons for a three-day closure of mosques to protest what they call the targeting of Sunnis for kidnapping and assassination. A leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, Harith al-Dhari, charged on Wednesday that the Shiite militia, the Badr Corps, was behind the incidents. Badr’s leader denied the accusation.

Ash-Sharq al-Awsat: Sunni cleric, Shaykh Abdul Ghafur al-Samarra’i of the Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad said in his sermon that the mosque closings were “a first step” and “a peaceful protest,” but warned that further steps would be taken if attacks on Sunnis persisted. He said that it was an especially dangerous situation when persons who represented themselves as belonging to an official government agency commit atrocities. (Sunnis have claimed that the now Shiite-dominated Ministry of the Interior is behind the attacks). He said he was nevertheless calling for calm and self-restraint.

At the Abu Hanifa Mosque, the capital’s second largest, in Adhamiyah, Shaikh Mu`ayyad al-Adhami announced in his sermon that his mosque, too, would close for three days. He also said, “Today Iraq has become, after its occupation, a slaughterhouse for freedom, a butcher shop of the innocent, and a catalogue of score-settling.”

Yasser Salihee of Knight Ridder reports on the struggle of some Sunnis to keep their mosques in the face of Shiite claims on them. Many Sunni mosques in the south have been usurped by Shiites, especially by Sadrists.

Several US servicemen were killed on Friday, at least 4 in separate incidents, and several more in a military truck that was struck by a car bomb, but no details had been released at the time of this writing.

I was struck Saturday morning by the difference between my summary of events on Friday and those in the major US papers. The Washington Post does not mention the violence at Nasiriyah, does not give a number for the 6,000 Sadrist demonstrators, and makes the Sunni mosque closing the lede.

The New York Times has even less, just a squib at the end of a long article on Saddam Hussein in his underwear. The LA Times is somewhat better but still very summarized.

It seems clear to me from the Arabic reports and the wire services that the demonstrations in the Shiite south and in Ramadi (only mentioned in the wires) were in part about the Guantanamo Koran desecration story, yet this meme is largely absent from mainstream press reporting. Why?

I suppose the Washington Post and the NYT had to put their editions to bed before I did, but this level and focus of coverage strikes me as just inadequate. The US public has no idea how bad things are in Iraq, or what is really going on there, and this is one reason.

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