[Marxism] Mahdi Army pulls out of govt, police buildings in Najaf(excerpt)

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Apr 13 19:28:49 MDT 2004

I am speculating, but this seems to me less like a decisive by al-Sadr
retreat than the result of a deal cut among the Shia leaders at the
Karbala gathering of 250,000 Shia, which must have been a spectacular
organizing weekend for anti-occupation forces.  Following the gathering,
Al-Sadr drops the Mahdi army's implicit claim to rule Najaf, and Sistani
begins to join the calls for resistance to the US attacks.  That's just
a guess, of course.

Even if the US succeeds in putting its appointees back in the offices,
this will mean little for the future of the occupation unless the rule
of the anti-occupation forces in the neighborhoods has been broken.

To some extent time is on the side of the rebellion -- almost whatever
happens, including a US military "victory."  They can well afford to
postpone a showdown in a way that can help spread the movement in such
important cities as Basra, which have not played much part publicly so

On the other hand, the US is under high pressure to act now, although
the political and military costs will be substantial and continuing.
Fred Feldman  

Militia Withdraws At Key Iraqi Sites 
9 Americans Missing in Convoy Attack (excerpt)
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Sewell Chan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 13, 2004; Page A01 

BAGHDAD, April 12 -- A week after seizing control of Najaf, Iraq's
holiest city, members of a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric
Moqtada Sadr relinquished their hold on police stations and government
buildings Monday as hundreds of U.S. soldiers mobilized in preparation
for an assault on the city. 
The withdrawal of Sadr's forces, the continuation of a cease-fire in the
violence-wracked city of Fallujah and the release of seven kidnapped
Chinese civilians amounted to the most positive developments for U.S.
occupation forces since a two-front war with Shiite militiamen and Sunni
Muslim insurgents erupted a week ago. 

At the same time, senior military officials reported that two U.S.
soldiers and seven employees of the American construction company
Kellogg Brown & Root were missing after an attack on a convoy near
Baghdad's airport Friday, and witnesses said 11 Russian energy workers
were kidnapped Monday in Baghdad. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of
U.S. forces in the Middle East, said he had formally requested thousands
of additional troops to help combat a surge in attacks by militants. 

Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, also pulled out of some government
installations and police stations in two other cities in Iraq, Kufa and
Karbala, according to witnesses interviewed by news service reporters.
The black-clad militiamen also have melted away in a teeming Baghdad
slum where they had spent the past week skirmishing with U.S. troops. 

The militia's withdrawal appeared to reflect an effort by Sadr to
resolve a violent confrontation with the U.S. occupation authority that
began with the closure of his newspaper and the arrest of his top
deputy. But it was not immediately clear how the occupation authority
and military commanders would respond. 

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said earlier
Monday that troops had moved to "the vicinity of Najaf to ensure that
we're all prepared to conduct offensive operations to eliminate the
final elements of Moqtada al-Sadr influence down there." Sanchez said
the troops approaching Najaf, where Sadr is said to be hiding, had
orders to kill or capture the cleric, who is wanted in connection with
the killing of another Shiite leader. 

But Shiite members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council urged the
occupation authority to seek a negotiated solution with Sadr, using
senior Shiite clerics as interlocutors. Several Shiites on the council
want legal proceedings against Sadr to be delayed until the planned
handover of sovereignty on June 30 in exchange for a commitment from
Sadr to dissolve his militia. 

The pullout of Sadr's militiamen occurred as a cease-fire -- described
by Sanchez as "tenuous" -- continued to hold in Fallujah, a turbulent
city about 35 miles west of Baghdad that has been a hotbed of Sunni
resistance to the occupation. While local Iraqi leaders and a delegation
from the Governing Council held talks aimed at brokering a truce, U.S.
military officials said Marines encircling the city continued to be
fired on by insurgents. Although U.S. offensive operations remained on
hold for a third day, additional units moved into place around the city
to prepare for more fighting. 

[The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that the seven Chinese
captives in Iraq had been released and taken to a safe residence in
Baghdad, where they were found to be in good health. Previous reports
from the official New China News Agency and Beijing newspapers said they
had entered Iraq from Jordan Sunday in search of work.] 

A statement issued Monday by Halliburton Co., the parent company of
Kellogg Brown & Root, confirmed that seven employees were missing,
including Thomas Hamill, a truck driver from Mississippi. The identities
of the six others were not disclosed. Three Czech journalists also were
reported missing and believed abducted. Residents of the Zayuna
neighborhood in Baghdad said on Monday night that 11 Russians living in
a house were abducted by gunmen. Three Japanese also remained in the
hands of kidnappers. 

In the first full fatality estimates since widespread fighting erupted a
week ago, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military's top spokesman in
Iraq, said about 70 Americans and 700 insurgents had been killed this
month, making it the deadliest since the fall of Saddam Hussein's
government a year ago. Kimmitt also said there were no reliable figures
for Iraqi civilian casualties in the latest fighting and dismissed
reports from Fallujah of hundreds of civilian deaths as "propaganda." 

Once Fallujah is brought back under control, he said, the Iraqi Health
Ministry would be asked to "get a fair, honest and credible figure." 

Seven U.S. troops were killed in combat from Friday to Sunday, the
military reported. The 1st Infantry Division lost three soldiers. One
was killed Friday evening by a rocket-propelled grenade near Buhriz and
another died Saturday in an attack on his reconnaissance patrol near
Khalis. A third was slain Sunday in an attack on a patrol near Samarra.
A 1st Armored Division soldier died Sunday of wounds suffered in a
roadside bombing in Baghdad the night before. Three Marines were killed
Sunday in two separate attacks in Anbar province, home to Fallujah. 

Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command, said he had requested
reinforcements in the form of two U.S. combat brigades, but he declined
to specify where they would come from or how many troops they would

C 2004 The Washington Post Company

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