[Marxism] US-led forces prepare to attack Shia shrine in Najaf

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Aug 17 21:37:19 MDT 2004

The commission, sent by the rather unstable meeting in Baghdad to
legitimize the US presence and domination with an election, was set up
after Allawi's supporters got control of the gathering which was rent by
opposition to the drive to smash Sadr at any cost. Presented initially
as a offer to "negotiate," it quickly became a re-offering of Allawi's
surrender ultimatum by a broader group that, it was hoped, would have
broader legitimacy with Iraqis.  The main purpose of the commission was
to lend legitimacy to the planned attack by painting Sadr as the
obstacle to peace.

But the big majority of Iraqis now clearly see that the occupation is
the main source of growing and brutal violence.  Noone can be sure that
US withdrawal will be followed by peace and stability, but it is clear
that such withdrawal is a precondition to the emergence of a peaceful,
unified Iraq.  

There is no sense in which Sadr's militia is any less legitimate than
the army set up by Washington for Allawi, or the US forces who stand as
the main source of his fake authority and toughness.  Sadr's forces,
unlike Allawi's and Washington's, are indigenous.  Although they hardly
represent Iraqi society as a whole, they represent much broader forces
than the occupation regime does.

In the eyes of Iraqis, Sadr has a right to be in the shrine, although
they might hope for a settlement that would lead to his withdrawal and
its return to normal operation.  It is the US forces and the client
regime they have set up complete with make-believe "strong man" Allawi
who have no right to be there.

The US has the raw force to smash Allawi's forces and wreck the Muslim
shrine if they can apply enough manpower, firepower, and air power.  It
would certainly put a capstone on their desecration of a nation and a
Muslim people. They MIGHT close one road to the end of the US presence
in Iraq, the one represented by Sadr's movement, but they will open up
many others all over the country -- immediately or over a relatively
short period of time.

This confrontation highlights the importance of action against the war
and in solidarity with the people of Iraq against the occupation now.
And it also emphasizes the importance of turning toward the August 29
antiwar, anti-President-Bush mobilization in New York August 29.
Fred Feldman

Iraqi Cleric Rebuffs Overture For Peace
Sadr Refuses to Meet Baghdad Delegation

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 18, 2004; Page A01 

NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 17 -- Rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr on Tuesday
rebuffed a delegation of Iraqi political leaders seeking a face-to-face
meeting to persuade him to disband his militia and vacate a large Shiite
Muslim shrine here, increasing chances of intensified U.S. and Iraqi
military action to evict him and his followers. 

The eight-member delegation, led by a senior cleric who is a relative of
Sadr's, crossed a U.S. military cordon and braved nearby gun battles to
reach the gold-domed Imam Ali shrine, one of Shiite Islam's holiest
sites. The group's goal was to forge a deal with Sadr to end a
potentially destabilizing confrontation and convert his militia into a
political organization that would take part in elections. 
The delegates, who waited for Sadr for three hours in a darkened
receiving room, never saw him. His aides said he failed to show because
of continued aggression by U.S. forces, which have engaged in intense
offensive operations against Sadr's militiamen in Najaf's old city, near
the shrine. Qais Qazali, a Sadr spokesman, condemned the United States
for "preventing peaceful negotiations." 

Military assaults occurred before and after the delegation's visit, with
U.S. Army units using Bradley Fighting Vehicles to expand their zone of
control in the old city and U.S. Marines lobbing 155mm artillery shells
into the massive cemetery north of the shrine. But a senior American
commander in Najaf insisted that operations paused during the attempted
peace talks. "We sat still for the entire time," said Maj. David Holahan
of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which commands U.S. forces in

To this correspondent, who accompanied the delegation, it appeared that
both sides were partly correct. As the delegation arrived, the distinct,
repetitive thud of a Bradley's 25mm main cannon echoed through the
labyrinthine alleys leading to the shrine, answered occasionally by the
explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade, likely fired by Sadr's Mahdi
Army militiamen. But as the evening wore on, the sound of American
armaments ceased and was replaced with more than a dozen bone-rattling
booms of Mahdi Army mortars being fired from next to the shrine. 

As the delegation approached the shrine in two sedans without armed
guards, members saw a city in the vise of war. 

In neighborhoods away from the shrine that are under U.S. control, the
streets were deserted save for patrols by Iraqi policemen wearing
face-covering balaclavas. 

In closer-in areas, militiamen roamed the streets with assault rifles
and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They had set up barricades on
streets and gun nests in abandoned buildings. To avoid detection by
Marine snipers perched atop the city's tallest buildings, reinforcements
were being ferried in through a network of alleys that cut through rows
of old brick buildings. 

Although the Mahdi Army has been described by some U.S. military
officials as a hobbled outfit that has taken hundreds of casualties in
the past week, Sadr's militia appeared to be everywhere in the
neighborhood near the shrine. Scores of armed young men walked along the

When the delegation entered the walled-off, white marble courtyard of
the shrine, about 1,000 of Sadr's supporters converged on the group,
stamping their feet, raising their fists into the air and shouting,
"Long live Moqtada!" 

To Sadr's followers, the United States' June 28 transfer of political
authority to an interim Iraqi government was meaningless. In their view,
the presence of 140,000 U.S. troops on Iraqi soil means their nation is
still under occupation. 

"We want peace. We don't want war," declared Samir Narem, a tall,
bearded man in an ankle-length tunic who joined the crowd that turned
out for the delegation. "But we don't want occupation. We will die
before we give up." 

As dusk turned to darkness and a warm breeze wafted through the city,
strings of green light bulbs hanging from the wall of the shrine
illuminated the courtyard and the intricate mosaics on the brick walls.
Scores of young men, who had completed their evening prayers, reclined
on large carpets unrolled over the marble floor. Every now and then,
someone would lead the crowd in chants of "Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!" 

"We are here to protect the shrine from the Americans and their pawns in
the government of Allawi," said a young English-speaking engineer from
the southern city of Basra, referring to interim Prime Minister Ayad
Allawi. "If we have to give our lives to protect this place, so be it.
We will go to paradise," said the man, who gave his name only as Abbas. 


More information about the Marxism mailing list