[Marxism] Ayatollah Sistani calls for mass action: US, Iraqi occupation officials non-plussed

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Aug 25 20:55:11 MDT 2004

Four articles circulated by Mark Jensen, moderator of the snow-news list
based in Seattle,  showing the impact of Sistani's call for a mass
mobilization of all Muslims to demand the withdrawal of all "armed men"
from Najaf.  

This is clearly aimed primarily aimed at the US forces, but also
pressures Sadr's forces and provides them with religious and national
political cover for terminating their wildly unequal conflict with the
US forces.  

The mass action called for by Sistani is probably regarded by Washington
as at least as great a threat to the occupation as Sadr's militia is,
but a threat that they cannot afford politically to attack in the same

We should consider our mass action on Sunday as a part of this event,
among other things. 
Fred Feldman 

NEWS: Reclusive ayatollah spurs mass action; U.S. and Iraqi authorities
appear non-plussed 

[Details began to emerge late Wednesday about the Ayatollah Sistani's
plans for settling the Najaf crisis.  He called in a statement read for
him by Basra 's governor for all "believers" to join him on a march to

"The masses will gather at the outskirts of Najaf and they will not
enter the city until all armed men, except the Iraqi national policemen,
withdraw from the city," said the statement.  Newsday's Ray Sanchez
reported from Baghdad that "thousands appeared to heed the call,
boarding cars and buses throughout the night."[1]  -- 

The creation of a mass action by the reclusive Sistani is a truly
extraordinary development, one that the U.S. does not appear to be
welcoming.  The *Telegraph* reports that "a Western diplomat described
[Sistani's] intervention as less than helpful. 'American forces have
fought their way almost to the shrine and now Sistani wants to reassert
his authority.' 

A bizarre display of pique toward journalists on the part of Najaf's
police chief also seemed an indication of the level of frustration
Iraqis working for the U.S.-installed government are feeling as events
seem to spin out of their control. 

Iraq's U.S.-picked prime minister, Iyad Allawi, however, seemed to feel
obliged to welcome Sistani's return, no doubt on account of the Shiite
cleric's stature and wide following.[2]  --  Meanwhile, the U.S.
continued to bombard Mahdi Army positions near the shrine of the Imam
Ali in Najaf, according to an eyewitness cited by Reuters.[3]  -- 

In an op/ed piece, veteran commentator Georgie Anne Geyer expresses
amazement at the obliviousness of Americans to the dramatic and historic
developments taking place in Iraq in recent days.[4]  -Mark] 




Newsday (with Associated Press) August 25, 2004 - 4:58 p.m. PDT 


BAGHDAD -- Iraq's most respected Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, made a dramatic return to the country Wednesday and urged
all Iraqi Muslims to join him on a march to the southern city of Najaf
and end the rebellion by Shia militia loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada

Iraqis by the thousands appeared to heed the call, boarding cars and
buses throughout the night.  They headed to Najaf in convoys to join
what he said would be a march to the besieged shrine of Imam Ali, one of
the most sacred sites in Islam.  The shrine has been the scene of fierce
battles between al-Sadr's followers and a combined force of U.S. and
Iraqi troops for the past three weeks. 

There was no sign that al-Sistani or his followers had coordinated their
moves with U.S. forces, raising the possibility of a confrontation
between his supporters, the U.S. and Iraqi security forces and al-Sadr's
militiamen.  His aides called for U.S. forces to withdraw from the holy
city immediately. 

Al-Sistani had left Iraq for heart surgery in London on Aug. 6, the day
after al-Sadr, a major rival, launched his rebellion.  Arab television
showed al-Sistani crossing into southern Iraq from Kuwait Wednesday in a
caravan of SUVs protected by Iraqi police and national guardsmen. 

"We ask all believers to volunteer to go with us to Najaf," al-Sistani
said in statement read by an aide in Basra.  "I have come for the sake
of Najaf, and I will stay until the crisis ends." 

It seemed unlikely that U.S. and Iraqi troops would withdraw from the
shrine, which they surrounded and cordoned off.  A U.S. AC-130 gunship
strafed positions near the shrine late Wednesday, witnesses said. 

American troops have done most of the heavy fighting in the heart of
Najaf's Old City, but the interim Iraqi government has insisted that
only Iraqi forces will enter the shrine, the most sacred site for the
country's majority Shia population. 

The unrelenting assaults, including nightly air attacks, appeared to
have weakened the resistance of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.  Wednesday
Maj. Gen. Ghalib al-Jazaari, Najaf's police chief, was the latest in a
series of Iraqi officials to predict its demise.  "The Mahdi Army is
finished," he said.  "Its hours are finished." 

The fighting has risked sharpening Shia opposition to the U.S. presence
in the country, especially if it results in damage to the Imam Ali

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi issued a statement welcoming
al-Sistani back "on behalf of all Iraqis" but did not say whether he
thought the cleric could play any role in ending the three-week
conflict.  Aides to al-Sadr said militants would cease fighting in areas
al-Sistani passed on his way to Najaf for this morning's march.  U.S.
military officials said the Iraqi government would decide how to respond
to the cleric's visit. 

Al-Sadr's followers have also been called to march on Najaf Thursday,
setting the stage for possible clashes amid rival demonstrations. 

In Kufa, northeast of Najaf, gunmen killed two people and wounded five
others in what appeared to be a peaceful demonstration by al-Sadr
supporters last night, the Associated Press reported.  Witnesses said
the marchers, in the hundreds, apparently came under fire from an Iraqi
National Guard post. 

Later, three mortar rounds, apparently intended for a police checkpoint,
hit a civilian area in Kufa, killing two people, including an 8-year-old
boy, and wounding four others. 

A militant group, meanwhile, said it had kidnapped the brother-in-law of
Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan and demanded to military operations
in Najaf, according to Al-Jazeera television.  Militants calling
themselves the "Divine Wrath Brigade" claimed in a video to have
kidnapped Maj. Gen. Salah Hassan Lami, military affairs director at the
Defense Ministry. 

Al-Sistani met Wednesday with Basra's governor, Hassan al-Rashid, who
read the cleric's statement.  "The masses will gather at the outskirts
of Najaf and they will not enter the city until all armed men, except
the Iraqi national policemen, withdraw from the city," it said.  An
al-Sistani representative in London said the cleric was returning to
Najaf "to stop the bloodshed." 

In mixed Shia and Sunni areas throughout Iraq, mosque loudspeakers urged
Iraqis to join the march to Najaf.  Abdel Hadi al-Daraji, an al-Sadr
spokesman in Baghdad, told Al-Arabiya television:  "I call upon all my
Sunni brothers and also our brothers in all of Iraq's provinces to
immediately head to Najaf to protect the shrine." 

Hundreds of insurgents have been seen leaving Najaf in recent days,
witnesses said. Iraqi officials have said that al-Sadr, who has not been
seen publicly for days, has fled the city, although the cleric's aides
have denied that. 

Iraqi police officials said several senior al-Sadr aides, including
Sheik Ali Smeisim, were arrested in Najaf Wednesday carrying valuables
from the shrine. Al-Sadr aides in Baghdad said the charges were part of
a smear campaign. 

Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes and tanks attacked the restive city of
Fallujah for more than two hours Wednesday, killing at least four
people, hospital officials said. Fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City slum
also killed one Iraqi and wounded another. 

A U.S. soldier was killed when a truck overturned on a bridge near
Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, a military spokesman said. By
Tuesday, 962 U.S. service members had died since the beginning of
military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to the U.S. Defense


AYATOLLAH CALLS FOR MARCH TO NAJAF By Toby Harnden in Najaf and Thomas
Harding in Basra 

Telegraph (UK) August 26, 2004 


Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shia Muslim cleric in
Iraq, yesterday called on his followers to march from across the country
to Najaf in an attempt to end the three-week uprising engulfing the holy

The 73-year-old cleric made his appeal after a surprise return from
heart surgery in London.  His arrival raised hopes that the occupation
of the Imam Ali shrine, the holiest Shia site in Iraq, by forces loyal
to his young rival Moqtada al-Sadr, would be ended peacefully. 

A spokesman for Sadr's Mahdi army admitted it had lost control of large
parts of the city after attacks by US forces supported by Iraqi police
and troops who have edged closer and closer to the shrine. 

Fighting continued around the shrine yesterday with police sealing off
entrances to the Old City and American Apache helicopters firing
missiles at Mahdi positions. 

The Mahdi army appeared to be encircled and weakened by heavy

The police and Sadr, who is wanted for the murder of a rival cleric,
appeared to have been wrong-footed by Sistani's initiative. 

Aides to the ayatollah said the cleric, the most powerful voice of
moderation in the tormented country, would unveil an initiative to
remove the Shia rebels from the Imam Ali mosque.  His first step will be
to demand the removal of all combatants from the holy city. 

Last night, 50 foreign journalists and their translators were forced out
of their hotel in Najaf at gunpoint by police and driven at high speed
to the police headquarters. 

Officers fired into the air a dozen times as journalists, including a
correspondent, translator and driver for the *Telegraph*, were forced
into a bus and two lorries. 

At the office of Najaf's police chief, Ghaleb al-Jazeeri, the
journalists were subjected to a tirade against the press.  Mr al-Jazeeri
said they were "not arrested."  He just wanted to address them.  After
an hour they were allowed to leave. 

Iyad Allawi, the prime minister, who has vowed to flush Sadr's militia
out of Najaf unless they surrender, welcomed Sistani home.  "Overcome
with happiness and on behalf of the noble people of Iraq, we welcome
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani," his statement said. 

After entering the country from Kuwait, Sistani rested in the southern
city of Basra last night in preparation for a trip to Najaf today. 

"We ask all believers to volunteer to go with us to Najaf," he said in a
statement.  "I have come for the sake of Najaf and I will stay in Najaf
until the crisis ends." 

The reclusive Sistani enjoys wide support among Iraq's 15 million Shia
and is viewed as a sane voice who tacitly supports American attempts to
restore stability. 

But American officials have been exasperated by his reluctance to offer
clear political guidance and his departure for England for a routine
angioplasty in the first week of the recent crisis. 

A Western diplomat described his intervention as less than helpful.
"American forces have fought their way almost to the shrine and now
Sistani wants to reassert his authority," he said 

Last night, Sistani was in a villa owned by his representative in
British-patrolled Basra.  After hearing he was in the city thousands of
delighted people went to the villa. 

His arrival raised British hopes of a peaceful solution to the siege of



Reuters August 26, 2004 - [Aug. 25, 4:14 p.m. PDT] 


A US military plane launched air strikes tonight on positions in Najaf
held by Shi'ite militants, a Reuters witness said. The AC-130 gunship
fired its cannon on positions near a shrine where the militants are
holed up. The Imam Ali shrine is occupied by militiamen loyal to rebel
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. They have fought a three-week uprising against
US and Iraqi government forces in Najaf. 




Yahoo! News August 25, 2004 - 5:02 p.m. PDT 


WASHINGTON -- It is almost as if no one notices anymore. 

Although the "Battle for Najaf" remains somewhere on most front pages
these days, Americans barely seem to attend to it.  Many, doubtless,
wonder rightfully:  What is going on there, anyway?  And then they turn
away to watch the real struggle, over John Kerry's war record from 35
years ago, and the run-up to the Republican convention. 

It seems that about every other hour, the Iraqi government (if it really
is one) issues another warning to the Mahdi militias (if they do not
really constitute some kind of army) inside the great Imam Ali Mosque to
leave the shrine, or else . . . We Americans, who are doing most of the
fighting around the most holy shrine in Shiite Islam (which has
destroyed virtually all of the blocks around it), continue to insist
that this battle is under the Iraqi government (if there really is one).

How many of the 60 percent of Iraq that is Shiite does the Mahdi army's
firebrand leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, inspire or even politically control?
Will the thrown-together new Iraqi army actually fight on the
foreigners' side against its own people?  Does the United States have
any way to win in a situation where, if al-Sadr lives, he's a hero, and
if he dies, he's a martyr?  Let's take those questions one by one. 

Anthony Cordesman, military analyst at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies here, points out that even before the fighting
started in the holy city of Najaf on Aug. 5, fully two-thirds of the
majority Shiite population was against the U.S. occupation -- and
according to polls and surveys, one-third supported violence against the
U.S. even then, before the nastiness of the last three weeks. 

"We are not popular in the Shiite areas," he told me, "and many saw this
violence as a way of getting the U.S. out.  It is also clear that many
resent the Iraqi government.  We did a miserable job training the Iraqi
troops, and now people are also coming in from Fallujah to fight in
Najaf -- it is no longer only Shiite." 

What's more, from many reports it seems clear that many of the Shiites
fighting in Najaf and other southern towns where the conflict has spread
see themselves refighting, only against a new enemy, the repression of
Saddam Hussein, which he unleashed there after the 1991 Gulf War and the
U.S.'s refusal to support the Shiite rebellion it had actively
encouraged.  Many also see themselves fighting in a continuation of the
Saddam repression that saw Muqtada al-Sadr's revered father, Mohammed
Baqir al-Sadr, brutally killed by the dictator in 1998. 

Neither of these memories, which many Iraqis link to the Americans, are
going to make them love their new occupiers.  This is especially true
because the revered senior al-Sadr's monumental gravesite lies in the
cemetery surrounding the mosque that the American soldiers have been
fighting in and destroying. It is yet another repetition of the history
of the Near East that has seen Islamic holy places come again and again
under foreign fire. 

The question about the new Iraqi army is a tough one.  Some Iraqis may
fight well -- remember, Saddam and his army did not let any
constrictions of holiness stand in their way of attacking the Najaf
mosque in 1991 as a punishment to the Shiites for rebelling -- but this
new army has no ideological or spiritual roots, as did both
revolutionary secular Baathism in its early and more serious days or as
does Shiite Islam today. 

If one asks the rather obvious question, Why would an Iraqi man fight
with foreigners, who will surely not stay in the country, against his
own tribe, country and kinsmen? it's easy to see what we are up against.

The official American answer, of course, is that we are there to build a
democracy -- that wondrous, utopian democratic Iraq that must be out
there somewhere, because we want to reconfigure the Middle East, and
besides, because all men and women, everywhere, want the same thing. 

But as Dr. Henry Kissinger has so wisely put it in his 1994 book
*Diplomacy*, this is a naive American fantasy.  This "image of a
universal man living by universal maxims, regardless of the past, of
geography, or of other immutable circumstances" does not exist. 

What does exist is what we are trying so hard not to acknowledge in
Najaf -- a people rooted in their own dark and passionate history of a
suffering faith which offers Iraqis, and indeed much of the world, their
own version of truth.  Meanwhile, democracy remains only a mechanical
political tool of those parts of the Western world that have repeatedly
colonized and overrun Iraq. 

In the 1970s, an old friend of mine, the *Chicago Tribune* correspondent
Philip Caputo, was in the Persian Gulf, and a simple old Bedouin told
him how much he liked the Americans.  When Caputo asked him why, the man
answered: "Because you did not come with the Crusaders." 

Finally, while we are still talking about winning, at least it seems
that our leaders have scaled down their hopes and expectations.  It may
still be possible that, in some imperfect way, the Iraqi government will
become a workable government, that the al-Sadr Shiites can be won over
to the idea of taking power through majority vote, and that a
functioning state, guarded for years by American soldiers, can yet take
form, albeit at horrendous cost to just about everyone. 

When the Republican convention takes place next week, don't just skip
the articles on Najaf, because they are central to it. In fact, read
them carefully!  You will see a strange replay of histories, now
profoundly involving America, that should be obligatory reading for
every delegate to that convention.  The fact is, today we have become
"the Crusaders." 

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