[Marxism] NYT assessment shows US at crisis point in fight with al-Sadr

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Aug 11 05:19:29 MDT 2004

The following assessment is even graver than the one in the LA Times.
It has a clear editorial line -- back off or decisively slow down -- but
it presents evidence that the military command is resisting a change of

Burns is a veteran Iraq hand who, as a journalist before the war,
aggressively campaigned for US removal of Saddam. He knew where a lot of
the regime's bodies were buried, but also took just about any horror
story from the exile operatives for good coin.

On the PBS-TV newshour Monday night, he warned that a US attack on Sadr
city would be likely to confront "a war of national resistance."
Fred Feldman

August 11, 2004 NYTimes.com
U.S. Troops Fight Iraq Militiamen on Two Fronts
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 10 - American troops fought simultaneous battles on
Tuesday with rebel Shiite militiamen in Najaf and the Baghdad slum of
Sadr City. But American commanders, preparing new battle orders,
appeared to have deferred for the time being any decision to mount
full-scale assaults on the rebels, weighing the consequences for their
wider aim of bringing stability to Iraq.

On the sixth day since fighters loyal to the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada
al-Sadr renewed their challenge to the American presence here, American
units showed signs of rising impatience. In Najaf, loudspeakers atop
patrolling Humvees urged residents to evacuate the city and warned Mr.
Sadr's fighters to "leave the city, or you will die." As night fell in
Sadr City, tanks and attack helicopters moved into militia-controlled
neighborhoods, and American attack jets and pilotless Predator drones
patrolled overhead.

Faced with the uprisings in Najaf and Sadr City, and rebel attacks in
Basra and other southern cities, the new Iraqi-American hierarchy in
Baghdad - Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Ambassador John D. Negroponte and
Gen. George W. Casey, the military commander -appeared to have reached a
watershed as critical as any since American troops toppled Saddam
Hussein's government in April 2003.

With elections planned by the end of January, many Americans and Iraqis
here say that Mr. Sadr's challenge offers a difficult choice. Either it
will have to be answered with force now, at the risk of igniting an
explosion of anger among Iraq's majority Shiite population, or with
negotiation as it was at the time of Mr. Sadr's last lengthy uprising in
the spring, with consequences that could cause the election plans and
much that lies beyond them to unravel. 

When he emerged from hiding on Monday to speak to reporters at Najaf's
Imam Ali shrine, the holiest in Shiite Islam, Mr. Sadr rejected Dr.
Allawi's urging over the weekend that he take part in the elections. Mr.
Sadr said efforts to build a democracy in Iraq could begin only after
American troops leave.

Perhaps the biggest threat posed by the rebels, to shut down oil exports
flowing from the country's richest southern oil fields, appeared to have
receded for the moment with the announcement by the Oil Ministry in
Baghdad that full production resumed on Tuesday after quick repairs to a
pipeline that was blown up by saboteurs on Monday. An official said the
two main export pipelines flowing to shipping terminals from oil fields
near Basra were pumping again, though the risk of renewed rebel attacks
remained high.

For days, American troops had avoided plunging into Sadr City, remaining
mostly on the western rim of the sprawling district, pushing back
militia bands threatening to break for the center of Baghdad, five miles
away. It was not clear on Tuesday night how deep the new offensive had
gone. But reporters returning from another day of skirmishes said
practically all of Sadr City appeared to be under the effective control
of militiamen who hide down side streets and alleys, promising a
potential bloodbath in the event of any full-scale challenge from the
Americans and Iraq's new security forces.

In Najaf, American armor and helicopter gunships continued to attack
around the vast cemetery that adjoins the Imam Ali shrine, now a base
and armory for Mr. Sadr.

Thunderous explosions were audible miles away, and black smoke curled
into the sky after an American jet bombed an inner-city hotel 400 yards
from the shrine that American officers said had been used as a firing
point by the rebels. At a base 20 miles away, senior Army and Marine
officers, awaiting orders from Baghdad, met to plan a wider assault on
the old town, a warren of alleyways and bazaars surrounding the ancient
shrine where hundreds of militiamen have been reported to be holed up.

American officers said the command in Baghdad was preparing to move
another 1,000 American troops into the city, on top of the 2,000 already
available to commanders there, with a view to pressuring the rebels and
adding punch to a new offensive. American forces planned attacks on the
old city before, during Mr. Sadr's uprising in April. But they pulled
back and signed a series of fragile truces with the cleric because of
concern about the repercussions, among Iraq's 15 million Shiites, of
damaging the Imam Ali shrine or of wounding or killing Mr. Sadr, a
populist leader in his early 30's who is the scion of one of Iraq's most
revered clerical dynasties.

The officers who spoke of plans for a new offensive acknowledged
privately that they hoped that the disclosure of the plans, and of the
American troop reinforcements, would persuade Mr. Sadr to back down and
disband his militia, known as the Mahdi Army. Another option discussed
by some American officers - using the fledgling Iraqi security forces to
carry out an assault on the mosque, and keeping American troops back to
blunt Shiite objections - appeared to have been ruled out after American
commanders concluded that the Iraqis fighting in Najaf have had trouble
achieving minor combat objectives.

Still, American commanders insisted that they were ready to press ahead
if Mr. Sadr fails to surrender. "All indications are that we are
committed this time," said Lt. Col. Myles Miyamasu, who commands the
First Battalion of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment, the Army unit that took
over the fighting in the cemetery on Sunday, relieving units of the 11th
Marine Expeditionary Unit. "There's a will to win this fight. There are
a lot of people we don't want to let down, including ourselves."

Mr. Sadr, who vowed Monday that he would fight "to the last drop of my
blood," showed his canny, mocking brand of politics when an aide in
Baghdad announced that the Mahdi Army had declared a curfew across the
capital, starting at 1 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. the next day, beginning
immediately and continuing until hostilities against Mr. Sadr's fighters
end. A day earlier, American forces imposed an indefinite curfew on Sadr
City, one of the cleric's strongholds, ordering the slum's two million
people off the streets from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., the most stringent curfew
in the 16 months since American troops captured Baghdad.

A representative of Mr. Sadr in Baghdad, Qais al-Khazali, called on "all
citizens, and especially employees" to obey the curfew and remain at
home during the curfew hours, and to support the militiamen in their
fight against the Americans. In a statement broadcast on the
Arabic-language television channel Al Arabiya, he renewed the
militiamen's warnings to Iraqi police, soldiers and national guardsmen,
saying they should refuse to "assist the occupiers," or face reprisals.


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