[Marxism] Reuters: Sadr forces still in shrine, but say control will be given to Sistani aides
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Aug 20 21:37:44 MDT 2004
The claim that Sadr's forces had surrendered the shrine to Allawi's cops
seems to have been attempt to proclaim victory and avoid a fight.
Hopefully, now that this has been exposed -- and now that Sistani has
intervened from abroad at Sadr's request -- Washington and Allawi will
face new obstacles to resuming the offensive. It is not clear whether
the forces INSIDE the mosque are armed. The reports I heard were that
their arms had been removed from the shrine which had again been opened
to the citizenry.
SADR MILITIA STILL CONTROLS IRAQ SHRINE -WITNESSES
By Michael Georgy
August 20, 2004 - 10:47 a.m. PDT
NAJAF -- Shi'ite fighters appeared still to be in control of a holy
Najaf on Friday after Iraq's interim government said it had overcome a
uprising by seizing the Imam Ali mosque without a shot being fired.
Witnesses in the southern city said Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr controlled the narrow alleyways leading to the
Police were nowhere to be seen.
Iraqi police in Najaf told CNN they did not control the site, the
holiest Shi'ite shrine, the broadcaster reported.
Amid the extraordinary confusion over a two-week rebellion that has
hundreds and driven world oil prices to record highs, the U.S. military
said it could not confirm the government had taken control of the shrine
A senior Interior Ministry spokesman earlier said police had entered the
shrine and arrested hundreds of militiamen.
Any bloodless seizure of the mosque would be a major political victory
interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who since taking over from U.S.
on June 28 has struggled to stem an insurgency and now a Shi'ite revolt
But soon after the seizure was announced, a senior Sadr aide said the
statement was untrue.
"The shrine is in the control of the Mehdi Army," said Sheikh Ahmad
al-Sheibani, a top militia commander. "The Mehdi Army will resist any
by the Iraqi police to control the shrine."
"Procedures are under way to hand over control of the shrine to
al-Sistani," he added, referring to Iraq's most influential Shi'ite
Sistani told his aides in Najaf to prepare to accept the keys to the
London-based spokesman for Sistani said.
U.S. Rear Admiral Greg Slavonic said he could not confirm the Najaf
in government hands. He added there were rumors Sadr had fled but his
whereabouts were unknown.
"We have no confirmation or intelligence on where he may be," Slavonic
At least 77 Iraqis were killed and around 70 wounded in ferocious U.S.
strikes and heavy fighting in the previous 24 hours in the city, health
The uprising helped drive world oil prices to new record highs, with
crude hitting more than $49 a barrel on Friday.
Insurgents in Iraq have waged a campaign of kidnapping aimed at driving
individuals, companies and troops supporting U.S. forces and the new
administration. An Islamist group has seized 12 Nepali workers because
their cooperation with U.S. forces, an statement issued on the Internet
SADR URGED TO SURRENDER
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Sabah Kadhim, appealed to Sadr, who has
become the face of resistance to U.S. and Iraqi authorities, to turn
"The Iraqi police are now in control of the shrine, along with the
authorities," he said.
Kadhim said Sadr might have escaped overnight and urged him to surrender
might be covered by an amnesty Allawi has offered to some of those
Allawi had pledged his forces would not storm the site.
"We are not going to attack the mosque, we are not going to attack
al-Sadr in the mosque," the interim prime minister told BBC radio,
Sadr's militia had wired it up with explosives.
Sadr's offer to hand control of the shrine to Shi'ite religious
and Allawi's conciliatory statement followed the most intense U.S.
of Mehdi militia positions since the conflict erupted.
U.S. AC-130 and helicopter gunships had struck repeatedly overnight and
on Friday, sending orange flashes and white sparks into the sky. Booming
explosions shook houses far from the battle zone. The attacks had eased
The Mehdi Army had been entrenched inside the shrine and the narrow
leading to it, along with an adjoining ancient cemetery. Witnesses had
there were several hundred fighters inside the sprawling mosque complex.
The militia has been running the shrine since an earlier uprising in
marks the tomb of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib -- the cousin and son-in-law of
Mohammed Jassim, a father of eight, shook his head as he stood on a
street corner, gunfire crackling overhead and tank shells rocking the
"I really don't believe any news anymore," he said. "We have heard it
before from both sides. We are not living like humans."
(Additional reporting by Mussab Khairallah and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in
and Andrew Cawthorne in
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