[Marxism] Muslim rivals unite

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 7 06:59:20 MDT 2004


Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 7, 2004; Page A01
Muslim Rivals Unite In Baghdad Uprising

By Karl Vick

BAGHDAD, April 6 -- On the streets of Baghdad neighborhoods long defined 
by differences of faith and politics, signs are emerging that resistance 
to the U.S. occupation may be growing from a sporadic, underground 
effort to a broader insurrection by militiamen who claim to be fighting 
in the name of their common faith, Islam.

On Monday, residents of Adhamiya, a largely Sunni section of northern 
Baghdad, marched with followers of Moqtada Sadr, the militant Shiite 
cleric whose call for armed resistance was answered by local Sunnis the 
same afternoon, residents said.

As protesters chanted anti-occupation slogans in Abu Hanifa Square, 
militants were seen hustling toward the site carrying AK-47s and 
rocket-propelled grenade launchers, residents said. The guerrillas 
opened fire on the U.S. armor deployed near the demonstration, attacking 
from positions in a neighborhood where militants appear to be not just 
tolerated but encouraged.

"I saw three mujaheddin on this street, and another three moving up this 
side," said Abu Hassan, pointing toward narrow lanes running toward the 
square on either side of the bakery where he works. On the other side of 
the counter, a customer spoke excitedly of guerrilla fighters arriving 
in several Toyota Coaster minibuses, then melting into the neighborhood.

"Everywhere among the houses they hid," said the young customer, who 
left without giving his name. "Then they started shooting at the 
American army."

"It's all so we will have a resistance, Adhamiya and Moqtada combined," 
Hassan said.

The bakery did brisk business Tuesday afternoon. In a city where the 
ordinarily jammed streets had light traffic for a second straight day, 
residents confided that they were ordering enough bread to last two or 
three days, stockpiling a staple in expectation of street fighting in 
the days ahead.

"What Moqtada Sadr did simply woke up the people," said Sarmad Akram, 
36, who owns the small food shop next door. "Now the people have the 
guts to resist."

The exchange, in a middle-class Sunni quarter, was one scene Tuesday 
that appeared to challenge the assessment by U.S. military officials 
that Sadr speaks for only a radical fringe in Iraq and that his calls 
for mass resistance will resonate only with his followers.

Directly across the Tigris River, in the heavily Shiite neighborhood of 
Kadhimiya, shops were shuttered and residents kept their own watch for 
the approach of armored columns from an occupation base at the top of 
the street.

The scene was calm, but a half-hour earlier a rocket-propelled grenade 
had ripped into a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the neighborhood, killing 
a U.S. soldier, the third killed in Kadhimiya in two days.

"We didn't do it," Sayyid Adnan Saafi said into his cell phone. The 
black-turbaned Sadr official was surrounded by armed men, but most of 
the several hundred males loitering in a broad pedestrian mall were 
local civilians, chatting, chewing salted nuts and nominally 
participating in the general strike Sadr's office had demanded of all 
schools and government offices. "Not supporting this strike means not 
supporting religion," a flyer warned.

"We told the people to take the students out to protest in a quiet and 
peaceful way," Saafi said. One principal said most officials felt 
obliged to obey, despite a contrary order from the Education Ministry, 
which is controlled by the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

Like complaints about home searches that leave Iraqis feeling defiled 
and humiliated, disappointment with the Governing Council is a grievance 
that binds many Iraqis. The panel is widely condemned as dominated by 
exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress leader far 
better known and loved in Washington than in Baghdad. The complaint 
gained new energy when Shiite clerics began a campaign against sections 
of the basic law the council produced with U.S. oversight as a basis for 
a constitution.

"We lost faith in the Americans," said Asaam Al Jarah, principal of a 
Kadhimiya high school. "Everybody was waiting for the transition, 
waiting and waiting. Then we saw the law was rubbish.

"Now everything is different."

The neighborhood, though Shiite, is not normally regarded as Sadr turf. 
Most Kadhimiya residents, like most of Iraq's majority Shiite 
population, look to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for instruction. But Abu 
Ali Hashem, a Sistani follower and an official of a hallowed Shiite 
shrine, estimated that half of the neighborhood's Sistani followers were 
joining in Sadr's protest in the absence of any instruction otherwise 
from their own leader.

That drift toward the young cleric appeared to challenge another 
critical calculation of U.S. commanders and officials. Occupation 
overseers have counted on the well-known tension between the revered 
Sistani and the upstart Sadr as a check on Sadr's influence. But the 
rivalry apparently is being overtaken by a more immediate conflict -- 
the scores of clashes since Sunday pitting occupation forces in Baghdad 
and several southern cities against militiamen who claim to be fighting 
in the name of a common faith.

"We send you this letter from your brothers in al Anbar governate and 
the city of Fallujah, to say that we are with you under the banner of 
'God is Greatest' and the mantle of Islam." So began a letter read over 
loudspeakers Monday outside Sadr's headquarters in the Shiite slum named 
for his late father and uncle, clerics who held the same rank as Sistani 
when they were killed, reputedly by Saddam Hussein's forces.

The letter was read on the morning that U.S. Marines began an offensive 
in Fallujah, a volatile seat of Sunni resistance just west of Baghdad. 
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force reported steady military progress, 
but also that insurgents who used to hit and run were, for the first 
time, standing and fighting.

"We are all behind Sayyid Moqtada Sadr, may God give him victory . . . 
on the subject of liberation," the letter read. Several hundred members 
of Sadr's irregular militia, the Mahdi Army, cheered and waved pistols 
and swords at the words.

"We are cooperating with our brothers the Shia," said Abu Ahmed, 52, 
standing on the main street of Adhamiya, where every storefront was 
closed behind steel shutters at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Forty-five minutes 
earlier, a red BMW had scooted through the neighborhood warning people 
to clear the streets. U.S. tanks had been spotted, and the community was 
spreading the word that a fight was coming.

"Move away! Move away!" a boy called out from near the remains of a taxi 
crushed by a tank in the previous day's fighting, which left four Iraqis 
dead. "The mujaheddin are behind me. They're attacking!"

The street emptied in moments, but the column of tanks did not arrive.

"You have not seen anything yet," said Akram, the shopkeeper. "You will 
see a new style of resistance in the city. Well-organized. Advanced. 
They will be surprised. They won't know what to do."

He smiled, but refused to say more, except that the plan would involve 
children as young as 8 and men as old as 80, drawn from across the 
district.

"When we all sit together, the groups of this city, it's something new. 
You'll be surprised. Something really very new. We have not started it yet.

"If I talk about it, it won't be a surprise," the shopkeeper added. "And 
you won't see the beauty of it."

The men on the shuttered main street had the same message.

"There's a new style of resistance," said an elderly man who, like the 
baker, gave his name as Abu Hassan.

The lines in Hassan's face deepened as he spoke bitterly of a year under 
occupation in a neighborhood long regarded by U.S. forces as hostile. 
The raids on private homes were the worst, Hassan said. He repeated 
familiar stories of American soldiers taking money and leaving only a 
receipt that proved impossible to redeem. He told of an old woman left 
behind when everyone else in her home was first arrested, then declared 
innocent after four months in detention.

"So we will keep killing them!" he snapped, his eyes flashing. "We found 
our way, just now. We gather together now."

-- 

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