[Marxism] "Iraqi" govt says Sadr forces must surrender or shrine will be attacked

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Aug 19 07:54:52 MDT 2004

In response to Sadr's peace offer, the "Iraqi" government has gone back
to the demand that Sadr and his militia "surrender themselves and their
weapons" to the U.S.-organized forces.  The commission sent from Baghdad
has asked that he "leave" the shrine and "disarm.

The Iraqi government and US forces seem to have concluded that their
authority and ability to impose the occupation regime depend on showing
the will to attack the shrine and face down the consequences.

Fred Feldman

Iraqi Government Threatens to Use Force Unless Sadr Settles

Published: August 19, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 19 - Displaying the brinkmanship that has made him
one of the United States' most powerful adversaries in Iraq, the rebel
cleric Moktada al-Sadr sent last-minute messages of conciliation on
Wednesday that appeared to have staved off an imminent assault on his
fortress in the country's holiest Shiite shrine.

But today, Iraq's government warned Mr. Sadr he would face a military
strike within hours unless he followed through and met conditions for
ending his uprising.

One of Iraq's ministers of state, Kasim Daoud, told a news conference in
Najaf the government had exhausted all peaceful means to persuade Mr.
Sadr to back down, and was determined to impose a military solution
unless he abandoned violence, handed in weapons and left the Imam Ali
Mosque, Reuters reported.

For two weeks, Mr. Sadr has led his militia force, known as the Mahdi
Army, in some of the deadliest fighting with American troops since the
invasion 16 months ago. But faced with a deadline of hours from Iraq's
interim government to back down or face attack by Iraqi troops, he
abruptly signaled a change of course, and suggested he would accept
demands to vacate Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, disband his militia and
transform it into a political party.

Not for the first time in his months of confrontation with American
troops, Mr. Sadr's apparent backing down came hedged with uncertainties,
among them that he spoke only through aides, and that they were vague on
what exactly he had agreed to. One of his spokesmen in Najaf told news
agencies that Mr. Sadr was insisting, before any concessions, on a
cease-fire that would require American and Iraqi troops to pull back
from positions around the shrine, a move that would yield territory won
in recent days.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in Najaf and the Shiite stronghold of Sadr
City in Baghdad, killing two Americans. 

Mr. Sadr's offer was met with applause by delegates gathered in Baghdad
to select a national assembly. 

Among senior officials in Washington and Baghdad, however, Mr. Sadr's
move was met with deep skepticism.

"I don't think we can trust al-Sadr," said Condoleezza Rice, President
Bush's national security adviser. Iraq's defense minister, Hazim
al-Shaalan, issued a statement calling Mr. Sadr's initiative "strange,"
after his earlier intransigence, and demanding that he substantiate his
offer by having his militiamen "immediately deliver their weapons" to
Iraqi forces around the shrine.

Even as American and Iraqi officials were weighing Mr. Sadr's
intentions, a menacing new dimension was added to the Najaf crisis by a
report on Al Jazeera television that Iraqi militants calling themselves
the Martyrs' Squad had captured an American journalist, Micah Garen, and
threatened to kill him within 48 hours if United States forces did not
pull out of Najaf.

On Wednesday night, the Arab news channel showed video images of a man
identified by Al Jazeera as Mr. Garen, kneeling in front of five masked
men with rifles. Mr. Garen, 36, whose family home is in New Haven, is an
independent documentary filmmaker who spent much of the last year in
Iraq researching a film and articles on the looting of Iraq's
archaeological heritage. 

He was seized by two armed men on Friday outside a gun shop in Nasiriya,
230 miles south of Baghdad. Nasiriya is one of a network of towns and
cities across the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq that have been
roiled by the spreading insurrection Mr. Sadr and his militia have
stirred since the fighting began in Najaf.

In another development, the United States military command said American
soldiers guarding Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, had shot dead two
Iraqi security detainees after a fight among inmates got out of control
shortly after dawn on Wednesday. The command's statement said guards had
seen a group of detainees attacking a fellow inmate with stones and tent
poles before the disturbance swelled to involve more than 200 men.

"Nonlethal ammunition" was used in an initial attempt to quell the
disturbance, the command said, apparently referring to rubber bullets,
and when that failed, "lethal force" had been authorized to save the
life of the detainee who had been attacked.

Mr. Sadr's latest about-face came after Defense Minister Shaalan flew to
Najaf on an American military helicopter on Wednesday and announced that
an attack on the Imam Ali Mosque was imminent. Answering Iraqis who have
condemned any American involvement in an assault on the shrine, Mr.
Shaalan said the attack would be led by Iraqi troops, with "no U.S.
intervention" other than air support and tanks to control roads leading
to the shrine
"They have a chance," he said of the rebels. "In the next few hours,
they have to surrender themselves and their weapons."


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