[Marxism] Shi'ite time-bomb
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
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
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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