[Marxism] Reuters: Sadr forces still in shrine, but say control will be given to Sistani aides

Fred Feldman 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.
Fred Feldman

http://ufppc.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1160

SADR MILITIA STILL CONTROLS IRAQ SHRINE -WITNESSES
By Michael Georgy

Reuters
August 20, 2004 - 10:47 a.m. PDT

http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=6032430

NAJAF -- Shi'ite fighters appeared still to be in control of a holy
shrine in 
Najaf on Friday after Iraq's interim government said it had overcome a
bloody 
uprising by seizing the Imam Ali mosque without a shot being fired.

Witnesses in the southern city said Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to
radical 
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr controlled the narrow alleyways leading to the
mosque.  
Police were nowhere to be seen.

Iraqi police in Najaf told CNN they did not control the site, the
country's 
holiest Shi'ite shrine, the broadcaster reported.

Amid the extraordinary confusion over a two-week rebellion that has
killed 
hundreds and driven world oil prices to record highs, the U.S. military
also 
said it could not confirm the government had taken control of the shrine

peacefully.

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
for 
interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who since taking over from U.S.
occupiers 
on June 28 has struggled to stem an insurgency and now a Shi'ite revolt
in 
eight cities.

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
attempt 
by the Iraqi police to control the shrine."

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

Sistani told his aides in Najaf to prepare to accept the keys to the
mosque, a 
London-based spokesman for Sistani said.

U.S. Rear Admiral Greg Slavonic said he could not confirm the Najaf
mosque was 
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
said.

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

The uprising helped drive world oil prices to new record highs, with
U.S. 
crude hitting more than $49 a barrel on Friday.

Insurgents in Iraq have waged a campaign of kidnapping aimed at driving
out 
individuals, companies and troops supporting U.S. forces and the new
Baghdad 
administration.  An Islamist group has seized 12 Nepali workers because
of 
their cooperation with U.S. forces, an statement issued on the Internet
said 
on Friday.

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
himself 
in.

"The Iraqi police are now in control of the shrine, along with the
religious 
authorities," he said.

Kadhim said Sadr might have escaped overnight and urged him to surrender
so he 
might be covered by an amnesty Allawi has offered to some of those
opposing 
his government.

Allawi had pledged his forces would not storm the site.

"We are not going to attack the mosque, we are not going to attack
Moqtada 
al-Sadr in the mosque," the interim prime minister told BBC radio,
adding 
Sadr's militia had wired it up with explosives.

Sadr's offer to hand control of the shrine to Shi'ite religious
authorities 
and Allawi's conciliatory statement followed the most intense U.S.
bombardment 
of Mehdi militia positions since the conflict erupted.

U.S. AC-130 and helicopter gunships had struck repeatedly overnight and
early 
on Friday, sending orange flashes and white sparks into the sky. Booming

explosions shook houses far from the battle zone. The attacks had eased
at 
daybreak.

The Mehdi Army had been entrenched inside the shrine and the narrow
alleyways 
leading to it, along with an adjoining ancient cemetery. Witnesses had
said 
there were several hundred fighters inside the sprawling mosque complex.

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

Mohammed Jassim, a father of eight, shook his head as he stood on a
Najaf 
street corner, gunfire crackling overhead and tank shells rocking the
ground.

"I really don't believe any news anymore," he said.  "We have heard it
all 
before from both sides.  We are not living like humans."

(Additional reporting by Mussab Khairallah and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in
Baghdad 
and Andrew Cawthorne in 





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