[Marxism] Reports on the confused situation in Najaf and the weakening occupation

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Aug 20 20:46:41 MDT 2004



Moqtada Al-Sadr and his forces have lived to fight another day, as Gary
McLennan stated in his Marxmail article.  

I think the following  articles give a better picture of the complex
situation and of the continued weakening of Allawi's position.  We need
-- as people who do not look at the world as Shia Muslims of whatever
political point of view -- to get a grip, among other things, of how
much millions of Iraqi and other Shiites do not want the shrine to
become a war zone.  Yes, if the US bombed the shrine and did enormous
damage to it, which they would have had to do to get Sadr's forces out,
the US imperialists would have paid for this in Iraq and elsewhere for a
hundred years and more, if they live so long.  

As a Shia Muslim and as a politician, Sadr was absolutely right to try
to get the shrine out of the line of fire at almost any cost.  I mean,
hasn't Iraq lost enough religiously, culturally, and in every other way
through various forms of American-sponsored looting! Sadr has made
friends by attempting to eliminate armed confrontation in the mosque. 

The latest reports I hear are that his forces have been mixing it up,
unarmed, with the normal flow of visitors to the shrine. Good! On the
whole his attempt to keep the shrine out of the fighting,  will gain him
points with the masses, especially the middle class but many more as
well who CARE about what happens to the shrine even if they primarily
blame the US for whatever happens. They are not just slavering for the
destruction of the shrine so they can throw bombs at US imperialism.
They want their leaders to try to protect it, which sounds reasonable to
me.

Many believe, and the US systematically suggests without committing
itself too far,   that it is obvious that Sistani gave the go-ahead to
the US to attack Najaf and do whatever is necessary to smash Sadr.. The
assumption has been that since he stopped briefly in Beirut and talked
with a moderate -- and pro-Syrian-- leader of the Shia there, his
condition must be a fake or not at all serious. This proves only that he
was not in critical or grave condition at the moment, but not that his
condition was not life-threatening or that he did not urgently need
massive and temporarily  debilitating surgery. Until I know otherwise, I
believe he did.

Of course, it is also possible that his illness had something to do with
the US decision to attempt a final clash with Sadr.  Maybe that was a
good time for the US to carry out an attack when al-Sadr could not
maneuver with as well as against Sistani.  In the end, Sistani's
response has offered Sadr a way to buy more time, and Sadr offered
Sistani the same thing by appealing to him. Of course, if it ever
becomes known that Sistani was giving the go-ahead for this offensive,
he will be finished forever as a leader of the Shia. 

I believe the main loser so far is Allawi and, right behind him his
employers, the US occupation, which must seem less viable than ever to
Iraqis.  That is more important than whether al-Sadr as an individual
has gained relative to other forces in the Shia community. This reality
may yet tempt Allawi and his bosses to reject Sadr's latest concessions
and launch an offensive, possibly involving the shrine. 

When the United States faces a mobilization that definitively breaks its
will (and that marks the emergence of a national movement in the
broadest sense and that is becoming more possible and inevitable every
day),  this will be go way beyond any of the currents or figures -- the
Shia ayatollahs, al-Sadr, the Sunni religious leaders, the Baathist
fighters -- who have been in the forefront of the resistance so far. I
don't think our focus should be on whether Sadr can unite all Shia,
because I think something much bigger is taking shape.
Fred Feldman



[On Friday the situation in Najaf was extremely confused, as
contradictory 
reports circulated about who is now in control of the mosque.  --  Sabah

Kadhim, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, announced that
Iraqi 
police had entered the mausoleum of the Imam Ali "without a shot being
fired" 
to find "500 men with light arms who prepared to surrender, and they
were in 
poor conditions and they required provisions and food, which we were
happy to 
help with," CNN reported.[1]  --  But according to Reuters and AFP
reports, 
this version of events was questioned by U.S. military authorities and
denied 
by aides to Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army militia that
for 
almost three weeks now has been battling thousands of U.S. troops.[2]
--  
Reuters reported these confusing developments followed "the most intense
U.S. 
bombardment of Mehdi positions since the conflict erupted" late Thursday
and 
early Friday.[3]  --  The BBC reported that the governor of Najaf had
said 
that he was unable to confirm that Iraqi police controlled the shrine,
and
"another journalist in Najaf, Toby Harnden of Britain's *Daily
Telegraph* 
newspaper, told BBC News 24:  'I would be absolutely astonished if 400 
fighters had been arrested today.' "[4]  --Mark]

http://ufppc.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1156

1.

World

The Struggle for Iraq

CONFUSION SURROUNDS NAJAF MOSQUE

CNN
August 20, 2004 - 8:00 a.m. PDT

http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/08/20/iraq.main/index.html

NAJAF -- An Iraqi Interior Minister spokesman said Iraqi police had
seized 
control of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, but the U.S. military said the
claim 
is false.

U.S. and Iraqi forces had surrounded the mosque -- one of the holiest
shrines 
in Shiite Islam -- in an effort to pressure fighters, loyal to Shiite
cleric 
Muqtada al-Sadr, who were holed up in the complex.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim announced Friday
afternoon that 
Iraqi police entered the mosque "without a shot being fired" and found 
hundreds of armed men who were eager to surrender to them.

But U.S. officials at the Pentagon said there is no sense that al-Sadr's

people have pulled out of the mosque, and that U.S. and Iraqi forces
still 
surround it.

And a senior aide to al-Sadr said the Medhi Army has not yet handed over
the 
keys to the mosque since no high religious authority has been found to
take 
them.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Sheibani said there was an agreement to give them to
Ayatollah 
Ali al-Sistani but he is not in Najaf.

There was no immediate word on the fate or location of al-Sadr, who was
at one 
time believed to be inside the mosque but later was said to be
elsewhere.

"It is possible that he might have escaped overnight," Kadhim said.

Kadhim said Iraqi police entered the mosque Friday afternoon "to
discover 
there 500 men with light arms who prepared to surrender, and they were
in poor 
conditions and they required provisions and food, which we were happy to
help 
with," he said.  "There was not a shot fired and nobody killed or
injured."

The men were "escorted" from the mosque by Iraqi security forces and
they may 
be eligible for amnesty if they did not commit serious crimes, he said.

"We will try and deal with leniency with misled young men who were
misled by 
the rhetoric," Kadhim said.

Earlier, Iraqi Ministry of Health officials said 77 Iraqis were killed
and 70 
were wounded in heavy fighting in Najaf overnight.

The dead included six Iraqi police officers.

Recent fighting in the city center has damaged the mosque and two of its

minarets, according to a CNN producer who visited the compound.

Al-Sadr had refused to negotiate on the latest Iraqi government
ultimatum 
because, an aide said, he and his forces want to deal with the Iraqi
National 
Conference delegation and not the interim government.

Thousands of militants loyal to al-Sadr were inside the mosque, and
Iraqi 
officials had threatened to "liberate" the mosque in a military
offensive if 
the forces don't leave.

"We are very determined that blood loss should be minimized," interim
Prime 
Minister Ayad Allawi said.

CNN producer Kianne Sadeq, who went inside the mosque compound Thursday
with a 
group of journalists, reported persistent sounds of mortars, gunfire and

explosions.  She said there was also a great deal of sniper fire.

The journalists were greeted by the Mehdi Army with cheers and chants of
"We 
will not stand down!"  Fighters flashed pictures of al-Sadr and many
danced.  
Also inside the compound were women and children, most of whom appeared
in a 
festive mood like the rest of the al-Sadr followers.  (On the Scene:
Inside 
the mosque)

Homes and businesses around the compound were heavily damaged.  The
streets 
were empty, and Sadeq described the area as a virtual ghost town.

"Everything outside of the mosque seems to be totaled," Sadeq said.

The Iraqi Ministry of Health also said Friday that fighting in Baghdad 
overnight had killed 13 Iraqis and wounded 107, with most of the
casualties 
happening in Sadr City, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said.  The area is
a 
Shiite neighborhood and a focus for the activities of al-Sadr
supporters.

AIRSTRIKES IN FALLUJA

U.S. airstrikes on antiaircraft positions in Falluja on Friday killed at
least 
five Iraqis, according to a hospital official in the city.

Lt. Col. Thomas Johnson with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said the

airstrikes targeted sites that were firing on U.S. aircraft.

The first strike happened around 1 a.m. (5 p.m. Thursday ET) in the
western 
district of al-Sina'i, killing two people and wounding four others.

The second took place about 10 hours later and resulted in large
secondary 
explosions, Johnson said, suggesting a weapons depot was near the
antiaircraft 
position.

A Falluja hospital official told a different story, saying the airstrike
hit a 
milk factory, killing three Iraqis and wounding two others.

Earlier, a U.S. C-130 gunship fired on insurgents in eastern Falluja,
after 
insurgents fired small arms and antiaircraft weapons at the gunship
overnight 
Thursday.

They were also seen firing mortars at a U.S. military base there.
Minutes 
later, the C-130 dropped bombs in the industrial and military
neighborhoods, a 
CNN stringer reported.

2.

DOUBT CAST OVER IRAQI GOVT CLAIM [OF] SHRINE ARRESTS

ABC News Online
August 21, 2004 - 1:20 a.m. AEST [Aug. 20 - 6:20 a.m. PDT]

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200408/s1181817.htm

There are conflicting reports on whether Iraqi police have gained
control of 
the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf.

A spokesman for the interim Government said Iraqi police have arrested
some 
400 Shiite Muslim militiamen at shrine, as fresh clashes broke out in
the 
city.

"Iraqi police entered the shrine in Najaf city and all armed militia
were 
evicted," the spokesman, who asked not to be named, said in Baghdad.

"About 400 people were arrested, but the Iraqi police could not get hold
of 
Moqtada Al Sadr."

But an AFP reporter said fresh fighting had broken out between US troops
and 
Shiite militia in the southern part of Najaf, casting doubt on official
claims 
police are in control of the shrine.

US Marines have also told Reuters they cannot verify that police are in 
control of the shrine.

A top aide to rebel Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr told Reuters in Najaf
ports 
that Iraqi police had taken control of the city's Imam Ali mosque were
false.

"The shrine is in the control of the Mehdi Army. The Mehdi Army will
resist 
any attempt by the Iraqi police to control the shrine," said Sheikh
Ahmad Al 
Sheibani, a senior commander in Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.

"Procedures are under way to hand over control of the shrine to
Ayatollah Ali 
Al-Sistani," he added, referring to Iraq's most influential Shiite
cleric.

--AFP/Reuters

3.

IRAQI POLICE ENTER NAJAF SHRINE, ARREST MILITIAMEN
By Michael Georgy

Reuters
August 20, 2004 - 7:24 a.m. PDT

http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=6030910

NAJAF -- Iraqi police took control of the Imam Ali Mosque in the holy
city of 
Najaf on Friday after entering the shrine and arrested some hundreds of 
militiamen, Interior Ministry and an Iraqi government source said.

Police had not found radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the source said.

"The Iraqi police are now in control of the shrine, along with the
religious 
authorities," said senior Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim.

He said Sadr may have escaped overnight and he appealed to the firebrand

cleric to turn himself in.

"We urge him to come and turn himself in and he might be covered by the 
amnesty," Kadhim said.

Kadhim said the city was now calm, but witnesses said fighting was
continuing 
near the shrine.

"Fighting is continuing near the Imam Ali Mosque.  We can't approach the

shrine because of the clashes," said Reuters cameraman Haidar
Salahuddine.

Al Jazeera television also quoted a senior Sadr aide as denying police
had 
entered the mosque.  Sheikh Ahmad al-Sheibani told the channel the
reports 
that police were inside Imam Ali Mosque were not true.  It gave no
further 
details.

Seizure of the mosque, a sacred site to Shi'ites around the world, came
after 
Sadr and his Mehdi militia had fought a two-week revolt in the city in
which 
hundreds of people died.

At least 77 Iraqis were killed and around 70 wounded in ferocious U.S.
air 
strikes and heavy fighting in the past 24 hours, health officials said.

The violence had also helped drive world oil prices to record highs.
Oil 
prices raced to fresh highs on Friday, carrying U.S. crude over $49 a
barrel.

Kadhim said the interim government had all along wanted its security
forces, 
accompanied by religious authorities, to enter the shrine peacefully to
defuse 
the crisis.

The announcement was made after Sadr was reported to be preparing to
hand 
control of the mosque to religious authorities.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had pledged his forces would not storm the
site, 
where the cleric's Mehdi Army was holed up.

The firebrand cleric had rejected one of Allawi's key demands, to
disband his 
Mehdi Army, according to his spokesman and it was not immediately clear
if 
Sadr had agreed to it.

Allawi had earlier extended an olive branch to Sadr and his followers,
saying 
he wanted to see a peaceful solution to the standoff.

"We are not going to attack the mosque, we are not going to attack
Moqtad 
al-Sadr in the mosque," Allawi told BBC World Service radio, adding
Sadr's 
militia had wired up the country's holiest Shi'ite shrine with
explosives.

The conciliatory statements followed the most intense U.S. bombardment
of 
Mehdi positions since the conflict erupted.

U.S. AC-130 and helicopter gunships struck repeatedly, sending orange
flashes 
and white sparks into the night sky.  Booming explosions shook houses
far from 
the battle zone.

The attacks had eased at daybreak.

The handover would mean militia wanting to enter the shrine and its
courtyard 
would have to leave their weapons outside, Sheibani said.

NO WEAPONS HANDOVER

The Mehdi Army was entrenched inside the shrine and the narrow alleyways

leading to it, along with an adjoining ancient cemetery.  Witnesses said
there 
were several hundred fighters inside the sprawling mosque complex.

Sheibani said the Mehdi Army would keep its weapons.

"The government and occupation forces started this.  They targeted our
leaders 
and symbols," he said.

The militia has been running the shrine since an earlier Shi'ite
uprising in 
April.  The shrine marks the tomb of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib -- the
cousin and 
son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad.

Allawi's ministers had vowed to storm it if Sadr ignored the demands.
Any 
attack could spark outrage from Iraq's majority Shi'ite community,
especially 
if U.S. forces are involved.

The U.S. raids overnight left many residents dazed.

"There was no way to sleep.  Bang, bang all night," said Aziz Hassan,
40.  
"Many stores are closed.  I am living on bread."

Allawi urged Sadr, the scion of a revered Shi'ite clerical dynasty and
the 
most visible face of resistance to his rule, to seek a political path
for his 
grievances.

(With reporting by Nadim Ladki and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Baghdad and
Andrew 
Cawthorne in London)

4.

CONFUSION OVER NAJAF REBEL MOVES

BBC
August 20, 2004 - 7:38 a.m. PDT

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3583772.stm

There is uncertainty over reports that Iraqi Shia gunmen loyal to
Moqtada Sadr 
have left their stronghold in the Imam Ali shrine in the holy city of
Najaf.

The Governor of Najaf's office told the BBC it could not confirm that
Iraqi 
police were in control of the shrine.

Reporters at the scene said fighting was continuing, despite earlier
reports 
of a deal to end the two-week stand-off between the militia and US-led
troops.

A spokesman for Mr Sadr has reportedly said the uprising is not over.

The spokesman, contacted by Reuters news agency, said the rebels had not
left 
the shrine, but were preparing to hand it over to Iraq's top Shia
authority.

The Iraqi interior ministry and the US military both told Reuters that
Mr Sadr 
was rumored to have fled overnight from the shrine complex, which had
been 
used by rebels as a base against US-led forces.

The interior ministry said Iraqi police had moved into the shrine,
accompanied 
by clerics, and 400 militiamen were said to have been detained.

But the BBC's Alastair Leithead in Baghdad said journalists who had
recently 
been in the shrine reported a relaxed atmosphere, with no sign of Iraqi 
police.

'VOLATILE

Another journalist in Najaf, Toby Harnden of Britain's *Daily Telegraph*

newspaper, told BBC News 24: "I would be absolutely astonished if 400
fighters 
had been arrested today."

He said Mr Sadr's supporters remained in control of the shrine, adding:
"The 
situation is still very dangerous, still very volatile -- there's still
a 
battle going on out there. "

The latest developments came after the heaviest night of shelling of
militia 
positions since the rebellion began.

US warplanes dropped bombs and tanks shelled rebel positions in a
five-hour 
onslaught.

The Iraqi health ministry said 77 people were killed and 70 others
wounded in 
fighting in Najaf since Thursday.

Elsewhere in Iraq:

.      Two US marines die in separate incidents in the restive Anbar
province, west 
of Baghdad, the US military says

.      US warplanes twice strike targets in Falluja, west of Baghdad, on
Thursday 
night, killing at least two people, according to hospital sources

.      Suspected Sadr militants set fire to the headquarters of Iraq's
South Oil 
Company in Basra on Thursday

.      A new US army report on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal
will implicate 
at least two dozen more personnel, say US defense officials, and a
report by a 
US academic says some medics collaborated with abusive guards.


On Friday, before reports of a withdrawal from the Najaf mosque began to

circulate, a spokesman for Mr Sadr, Sheikh Ali Shaibani, said the cleric
would 
not comply with the government's demand to disband his Mehdi Army and
vowed to 
fight on.

But interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said the "olive branch is still 
extended" to Mr Sadr.

Speaking to the BBC a day after issuing a "final call" for Mr Sadr's
Mehdi 
Army to leave the shrine and disband, Mr Allawi said:  "We have extended
and 
still extend an open hand to Moqtada Sadr.

"He can join the political process and he is welcome to."

Mr Allawi said fighters sheltering in the shrine included "ex-criminals
[who] 
have wired up the holy shrine to blow it up".

Al-Qaeda fighters were also inside, he said.











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