[Marxism] Shi'ite time-bomb

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 26 06:59:26 MDT 2004

LA Times, April 26, 2004

Insurgents Fortify Positions in Najaf
U.S. troops await orders to enter the holy city, where a militant 
cleric's followers are stockpiling arms at religious sites and detaining 

By Edmund Sanders, Times Staff Writer

NAJAF, Iraq — As U.S. troops await orders to enter this Islamic holy 
city, militant Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and his militia are 
strengthening their control here, stockpiling weapons, seizing key 
religious sites and arresting or detaining those who challenge him.

In the last two weeks, Sadr's followers — many rushing here from 
Baghdad, Fallouja and other areas of Iraq — have fortified their 
positions in the city and the neighboring town of Kufa, including at 
Najaf's gold-domed shrine of Imam Ali, one of the most revered mosques 
in the world.

Sadr's forces have evicted more than 100 rival Shiite clerics and shrine 
employees, replacing them with their own armed militiamen, who roam the 
rooftops and courtyards of the shrine with rifles and 
rocket-propelled-grenade launchers hung over their shoulders.

The cleric's followers also were stockpiling weapons in mosques, 
schools, graveyards and private houses around the city, according to 
U.S. intelligence reports and local residents.

The open challenge to the U.S.-led administration in a city seen as 
sacred to Shiite Muslims, who make up 60% of Iraq's population, has put 
coalition authorities in a quandary. Two weeks ago, U.S. military 
officials amassed 2,500 troops on the outskirts of Najaf and declared 
their intention to restore order to the city and kill or capture Sadr. 
Last week, they softened their stance, saying they wanted to allow more 
time to reach a peaceful settlement in Najaf.

But on Sunday, L. Paul Bremer III, the civil administrator of Iraq, 
called Sadr's growing weapons cache "an explosive situation." Brig. Gen. 
Mark Hertling, deputy commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division, 
said soldiers probably would advance into an area on the edge of Najaf 
being vacated by withdrawing Spanish troops. He said that although the 
Americans would not interfere with religious institutions, the move 
would further squeeze Sadr's forces.

"We're going to drive this guy into the dirt," he said.

A top U.N. official, however, preached caution.

Najaf "has a lot of history," Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations 
special envoy to Iraq, said in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC's 
"This Week" news show. "Sending the tanks rolling into a place like 
this, you know, is not the right thing to do. And I think the Americans 
know that extremely well now."

U.S. senators also weighed in on the situation Sunday. Sen. Jon Kyl 
(R-Ariz.) argued on "This Week" that "sometimes there is no substitute 
for military action," but Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) warned that 
if troops were to damage Shiite sites during an assault on the city, 
"you've probably gotten yourself more trouble."

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), on CNN's "Late Edition," 
noted that "the destabilization [and] the anger among groups" in Najaf 
had been predicted in prewar intelligence, but discounted.

"Now we're stuck with the situation," he said. "Being stuck with that 
situation, we cannot come out losers. So we have to control before we 
turn over to the Iraqis the government. Therefore, we have to control 
Najaf also."

Observers fear that even a measured action against Najaf could ignite 
violence around the country.

"This can be the most brilliant operation in history, but if the Ali 
shrine goes up in flames, that's all anyone is going to remember," said 
Phil Kosnett, a State Department official who heads the Najaf office of 
the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Over the weekend, while U.S. troops waited outside Najaf, black-clad 
militia members could be seen driving around the city in stolen police 
cars, carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and hand grenades. They 
crouched in the palm groves outside the city limits, peered from 
lookouts in second-story windows along the main commercial street and 
patrolled the bridges, preparing to attack U.S. troops if they entered 
the city.

Local police officers spoke of their inability to stop the militants, 
who this month ransacked several police stations, taking guns and vehicles.

"This is all they left us to sit on," said one police officer, sitting 
on a wobbly, three-legged chair outside the main Najaf police headquarters.

Police officers say they have reached an unspoken agreement with members 
of the Al Mahdi army, Sadr's militia, to stay out of each other's way.

"We have kept quiet during this crisis," said Fadil Sami, 30, an 
officer. "With whom are we going to fight? We are all sons of the same 
society. We don't want any kind of friction with the Al Mahdi army."

The militia fighters, meanwhile, said they were prepared to die if Sadr 
gave them the order. On Friday, the cleric threatened to resort to 
suicide attacks if the Americans entered Najaf and Kufa.

"I'm eager to embrace death like a baby is eager to embrace his mother's 
breast," said Thu Fiqar Hussain, 27, standing outside a Kufa library 
with a rifle held together with masking tape.

"If the Americans enter Najaf, it will be their cemetery," said Muhammed 
Abdul Rida, 18, another militia member.



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