233 Dead in Civil War Carnage
Health Ministry Besieged
3,000 Widows Created Each Month
So as Thursday began, Sunni Arab guerrillas surrounded and attacked the Ministry of Health, which is dominated by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The guerrillas trapped 2,000 employees in the compound and threatened to kill any who came outside. They also subjected the building to mortar fire. The ministry guards, who are probably Mahdi Army, kept them at bay but lost 7 men doing it. It took US and Iraqi forces 2 hours to respond, and the guerrillas were only finally dispersed by helicopter gunships. The siege probably came in revenge for the Mahdi Army attack on the Sunni-run Ministry of Higher Education two weeks ago.
Then US troops searching for a kidnapped US soldier in Sadr City were a approached by van traveling at a high speed, which did not slow as they instructed it. They shot up the van, killing 4 civilians and creating some unhappy families in Sadr City; then this incident was overshadowed by several big attacks.
Steven R. Hurst of the Associated Press reported that the death toll in the string of car bombings targetting Sadr City and other Shiite neighborhoods on Thursday has risen to 161, with 257 wounded. Altogether, he says, “Counting those killed in Sadr City, at least 233 people died or were found dead across Iraq on Thursday.” Oh, my. Since Iraq is 11 times smaller in population than the US, that would be like the deaths of 2,563 Americans. On September 11, on the order of 2,783 Americans were killed, and several hundred of other nationalities.*
Armed Shiites came into the streets amid the charred and bloody corpses, says al-Hayat, cursing Sunni Muslims and firing their automatic weapons in the air in frustration and rage. They were taking mortar fire. The footage from Sadr City on Aljazeera looked like the seventh level of hell, with vehicles burning, the air thick with smoke, and mortar shells and small arms fire boiling in the background.
KarbalaNews.net reports in Arabic that after the car bombs were detonated in Sadr City, the Sunni Arab guerrillas set up checkpoints and attacked ambulences and rescue crews, stopping further ambulances from getting through. The Sunni Arab guerrillas also surrounded hospitals near to Sadr City and prevented cars bearing the wounded from getting through, firing on them.
The Iraqi government imposed a curfew on Baghdad and closed the Baghdad and Basra airports, cutting the country off from the outside worlds. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Basra ports were also closed “until further notice.”
How bad the situation is in Iraq is suggested by this email I just got from a professional who used to be in Iraq but now is in a nearby country:
‘ It is desperate in Iraq, worse then ever and there is no end in sight. I had lunch with [a former high ranking medical educator in Iraq] two days ago. [He]noted that Iraq no longer has neuro-surgeons, no cardiac surgeons, few pediatric doctors – they are all gone, killed or fled to neighboring countries like him. He was given seven days to get out or be killed. He is one of the lucky ones. He and his family have an opportunity for a new life in the US. But what about all the others. Where are they to go?
Another friend, a Sunni sheikh of the Shammar tribe noted to me that thousands of former officers are prepared to assault the G[reen] Z[one]. It is no longer a matter of can they do it, they are only mulling over the timing. The breach of the Green Zone security the other day was a test of their ability to get in, and not a real attempt at a coup, though it is reported as such. Every Iraqi I talk to says unambiguously that the resistance attached to the former regime would take out the Shiite militias with barely a fight, but that the resistance will not commit wholesale revenge against the Shiite population. They just want to get rid of the “carpet baggers” from Iran. ‘
Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite nationalist cleric, is said to be afraid that he cannot constrain his Mahdi Army militiamen from taking revenge on the Sunni Arab community for Thursday’s mass slaugher.
‘ In a TV statement read by an aide, al-Sadr urged unity among his followers to end the U.S. “occupation” that he said is causing Iraq’s strife. Al-Sadr said the attacks coincided with the seventh anniversary of the assassination of his father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a revered Shia religious leader. The anniversary reckoning was by the Islamic calendar. “Had the late al-Sadr been among you he would have said preserve your unity,” the statement said. “Don’t carry out any act before you ask the Hawza (Shia seminary in Najaf). Be the ones who are unjustly treated and not the ones who treat others unjustly.”
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shia religious figure in Iraq, condemned the bombings and issued condolences to family members of those who were killed. He called for self-control among his followers. ‘
In fact, Shiite guerrillas went ahead and took some revenge on Thursday, lobbing mortar shells at the HQ of the hardline Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars as well as at the mosque and shrine of Imam Abu Hanifa, which they damaged. Most Turks, Pakistanis, Indian Muslims, and many Lebanese and Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis follow the Hanafi legal rite founded by Abu Hanifa. His is an important shrine, an attack on which will inevitably produce a Sunni backlash of some severity.
Harith al-Dhari, a leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars [Sunni revivalist clerics], told al-Sharq al-Awsat that he had not sought out Arab states as mediators between himself and the Iraqi government. Baghdad issued a warrant last week for his interrogation on suspicion of instigating terrorism. The Arab League has intervened on his behalf. He is visiting Egypt for a conference but resides in Jordan and has not been taken into custody. In Thursday’s interview, al-Dhari insisted that he would travel back to Iraq at a time of his choosing, undeterred by the warrant. He said that those who have taken up arms against the American occupier would not relinquish them for the sake of entering the political process. He expressed pessimism that the establishment of diplomatic relations with Syria would change the situation in Iraq.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that Raja’ al-Khuza’i, a secular Shiite woman physician and the head of the National Council for Iraqi women, announced Thursday that Iraqi women are subjected to increasing violence and that 3,000 become widows each month. Al-Khuza’i served on the Interim Governing Council during the tenure of US proconsul Paul Bremer and had fought against the imposition of religious law on Iraq’s women. Speaking in Vienna, al-Khuza’i said that a large number of female activists had been assassinated, along with large numbers of school teachers, female physicians, and woman police officers. She said the 100 new widows every day were often left with no means of supporting themselves and their children.
Ed Wong reports on sophisticated training camps in Diyala for Sunni Arab guerrillas of a Salafi or Sunni revivalist bent (they are not actually Wahhabis for the most part, i.e.– Wahhabis predominate in Saudi Arabia). The guerrillas were able to stand and fight US troops in a pitched battle, deploying platoon-sized units.
Aljazeera reports that ex-Baathist Sunni fighters of the Awda [Return] Party have asserted control in the region near the Syrian border, driving Salafi Sunni revivalists out. Awda’s paramilitary is called the Army of Muhammad even though it is secular.
*Corrected text; thanks to a kind reader– see comments.