[Marxism] Sadrist victory

Stuart Lawrence stuartlawrence at earthlink.net
Sun Aug 29 21:45:50 MDT 2004

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Joaquín" <jbustelo at bellsouth.net>
To: "'Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition'"
<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Sunday, August 29, 2004 9:51 PM
Subject: RE: [Marxism] Sadrist victory

>>Did some marine colonel order the attack or did Negroponte ok it?
Impossible to tell at this time, but whatever the truth of the matter,
we should know that Najaf 2 has turned out to be a major disaster for
the Occupation.<<

>The NY Times had it that way in a big summing-up story they did about 2
weeks ago. Unforutnately that story is now inaccessible. That story said
the initial Marine provocations and first big push against the militia
wasn't consulted with the chain of command up in Baghdad. The account in
that story matches how Al Jazeera and others have described the
evolution of the confrontation.<

Here's the full article, courtesy of LexisNexis:

The New York Times August 18, 2004 Wednesday
Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Column 2; Foreign Desk;


LENGTH: 1810 words

HEADLINE: 8-Day Battle for Najaf: From Attack to Stalemate

BYLINE: By ALEX BERENSON and JOHN F. BURNS; Alex Berenson reported from
Najaf for this article and John F. Burns from Baghdad.

DATELINE: NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 17


Just five days after they arrived here to take over from Army units that
had encircled Najaf since an earlier confrontation in the spring, new
Marine commanders decided to smash guerrillas loyal to the rebel Shiite
cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Acting without the approval of the Pentagon or senior Iraqi officials,
the Marine officers said in recent interviews, they turned a firefight
with Mr. Sadr's forces on Thursday, Aug. 5, into a eight-day pitched
battle, one fought out in deadly skirmishes in an ancient cemetery that
brought them within rifle shot of the Imam Ali Mosque, Shiite Islam's
holiest shrine. Eventually, fresh Army units arrived from Baghdad and
took over Marine positions near the mosque, but by then the politics of
war had taken over and the American force had lost the opportunity to
storm Mr. Sadr's fighters around the mosque.

Fighting here continues, and what the Marines had hoped would be a
quick, decisive action has bogged down into a grinding battle that
appears to have strengthened the hand of Mr. Sadr, whose stature rises
each time he survives a confrontation with the American military. It may
have weakened the credibility of the interim Iraqi government of Prime
Minister Ayad Allawi, showing him, many Iraqis say, to be alternately
rash and indecisive, as well as ultimately beholden to American overrule
on crucial military and political matters.

As a reconstruction of the battle in Najaf shows, the sequence of events
was strikingly reminiscent of the battle of Falluja in April. In both
cases, newly arrived Marine units immediately confronted guerrillas in
firefights that quickly escalated. And in both cases, the American
military failed to achieve its strategic goals, pulling back after the
political costs of the confrontation rose. Falluja is now essentially
off-limits to American ground troops and has become a haven for Sunni
Muslim insurgents and terrorists menacing Baghdad, American commanders

The Najaf battle has also raised fresh questions about an age-old
rivalry within the American military -- between the no-holds-barred,
press-ahead culture of the Marines and the slower, more reserved and
often more politically cautious approach of the Army. Army-Marine
tensions also have surfaced previously, notably when the Marines opened
the Falluja offensive.

As they replay the first days of the Najaf battle, some commanders are
wondering if a more carefully planned mission would have had a better
chance to succeed.

''Setting conditions for an attack requires extensive planning and
preparations,'' said Lt. Col. Myles Miyamasu, who commands an Army
battalion that arrived to reinforce the Marine unit here two days after
the fight began. ''If you don't have those things in place and you
attack, a lot of times it fails.''

When the United States transferred power to the interim government in
June, both American and Iraqi officials insisted that authority for
major decisions on the use of force would be exercised by the new Iraqi
leadership, in particular Dr. Allawi, a former enforcer for Saddam
Hussein's Baath Party who defected in the 1980's and became leader of an
exile political party. Senior United States military commanders
emphasized that while they retained command of their troops, the forces
were there to serve the Iraqi government.

But in the battle in Najaf, at least, the marines here say they engaged
Mr. Sadr's forces at the request of the local Iraqi police. They did not
seek approval from senior military commanders or from Iraqi political
leaders, with the exception of the governor of Najaf. The governor,
Adnan al-Zurfi, an Allawi appointee, refuses to confirm having given the
green light, although American commanders in Baghdad cited his commands
repeatedly as the political cover for the Marine attack.

In past week, the interim government has twice halted major American-led
attacks on Mr. Sadr's forces as they were about to begin. It now says it
will use Iraqi troops for future battles. But it is far from clear,
judging from the lukewarm assessments of American commanders in Najaf,
that the American-trained Iraqi units that fought alongside the
Americans last week are capable of taking the lead in any showdown with
Mr. Sadr.

The seeds of the Najaf battle were sown on July 31, when the 11th Marine
Expeditionary Unit, commanded by Col. Anthony M. Haslam, replaced units
of the Army's First Armored Division and First Infantry Division, which
had fought Mr. Sadr's militiamen for weeks in the spring before a series
of truces around Najaf. The marines began to skirmish with the Iraqi
fighters almost as soon as they took responsibility for this holy city
of 500,000, American officers and Mr. Sadr's militiamen say.

Senior officers in Baghdad, as well White House officials who discussed
the battle in Washington, say the latest fighting began when a Marine
patrol drove directly past one of Mr. Sadr's houses in Najaf -- 
violating an informal agreement that American units would stay away from
Mr. Sadr's strongholds, treating them as part of an ''exclusion zone''
that was at the heart of the cease-fire in the city.

Two days later, on Aug. 5, fighters in Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army staged a 2
a.m. attack on a police station in Najaf. Usually, the police are an
easy mark, but this time, the White House official said, ''they shot
back'' and called for American reinforcements. When the militiamen
pushed forward a third time, about 7 a.m., American commanders in
Baghdad said, the governor, Mr. Zurfi, called for American

American intelligence officials monitoring Mr. Sadr said he then
summoned reinforcements from around the country, and Ambassador John D.
Negroponte, the top American official in Iraq, ''decided to pursue the
case,'' one official said. One result was a domino effect, with the
fighting in Najaf soon replicated in more than half a dozen cities and
towns across southern Iraq that are Mahdi Army strongholds, including
the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, Diwaniya, Kut, Al Hayy, Nasiriya, Amara
and Basra.

The battle in Najaf quickly centered on a huge cemetery adjacent to the
Imam Ali Shrine, which had been off limits to American troops as part of
a truce worked out after earlier fighting in April. At its closest
point, the L-shaped cemetery, more than five square miles of tombs and
catafalques and crypts, is only a few hundred yards from the shrine.
Marine commanders in Najaf acknowledge that they did little planning for
the battle, but say they gambled that they could reach the walls of the
Old City so fast that they would outrun the political firestorm sure to

''We just did it,'' said Maj. David Holahan, second in command of the
Marine unit in Najaf.

Inside the cemetery, the battle was exceptionally fierce, marines said.
Mr. Sadr's guerrillas had secreted away many weapons caches and
explosive devices, and as the marines forced their way forward, they
traded shots -- and hand grenades -- with insurgents who were sometimes
only a few yards away.

The ferocity of the rebel resistance surprised the marines, who had seen
Saddam Hussein's army disintegrate last year as they marched north to
Baghdad. ''The ones we fought the other day are a hell of a lot more
determined,'' Lt. Scott Cuomo said.

By early evening on Aug. 5, the battalion had sent out an urgent request
for reinforcements. Senior commanders sent the First Battalion of the
Fifth Cavalry Regiment, a heavy Army unit, from Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the First Cavalry Division commander
overseeing American troops in Baghdad, said during a visit to an
American base in Najaf on Sunday, Aug. 15, that the division did not
know until the last minute that the 1,800 marines in Najaf might need
reinforcements. The Fifth Cavalry Regiment's tanks and other armored
vehicles were patrolling in Baghdad when the request for help arrived,
he said. By then, American troops in the capital were under intense
pressure themselves, fighting Sadr militiamen in Sadr City and in
skirmishes in other Shiite districts.

Army units began to prepare to move immediately, but the 120-mile drive
from Baghdad, through some of the most rebel-infested territory in Iraq,
took two days, Colonel Miyamasu said, with the forces arriving in Najaf
on Saturday. By then, many marines had been fighting for almost 48 hours
straight, in temperatures that topped 120 degrees each day.

Still, they had managed to press forward to the west and south, reaching
the southern edge of the cemetery, just a few hundred yards from the
mosque. But with the Army battalion unprepared to fight Saturday, the
marines decided to retreat.

The next day, Aug. 8, the Army re-entered the cemetery. But by then,
with political pressures building in Iraq and across the Muslim world,
American forces faced immense pressure not to damage the Imam Ali
Mosque. The Army never tried to reach the south wall of the Old City,
and soldiers fighting inside the graveyard needed permission to fire
heavier weapons in the direction of the mosque. The fight became a

''If we had arrived one day earlier or the marines had attacked one day
later, I'm not sure we'd be in this position,'' Colonel Miyamasu said.

In Baghdad, commanders seemed curiously disconnected. On Monday, Aug. 9,
a senior military official told reporters that American forces had cut
off Mr. Sadr's forces in the Old City and the cemetery from the rest of
Najaf. But no cordon existed, and none would be set up until Thursday,
when the second Army battalion arrived.

Marine officers have said they killed several hundred guerrillas,
weakening Mr. Sadr's forces for future fighting, at a relatively low
cost in American casualties -- 8 marines and soldiers killed and about
30 wounded.

''We put a major hurt on his hard-core militia members,'' Major Holahan
said. ''Things happened pretty well from a military point of view.''

Mr. Sadr's spokesmen have disputed the American figures for their dead,
saying fewer than 30 were killed.

On Friday, the Iraqi government and Mr. Sadr's forces reached a
tentative cease-fire. Although negotiations with an Allawi government
delegation from Baghdad quickly collapsed, amid new threats from Dr.
Allawi and his aides of a resumed push on the mosque, Mr. Sadr appeared
to have once again withstood American threats and firepower.

Iraqi officials have said the new plan is to use Iraqi units to force
Mr. Sadr from the mosque, while assuring fellow Muslims, in interviews
broadcast across the Arab world, that they will allow no damage to the

''I am disappointed,'' Colonel Miyamasu said Friday, after the
cease-fire was announced. ''A target of opportunity has passed.'' But he
said American forces would continue to press Mr. Sadr as long as the
Iraqi government wanted.

''It's not over,'' he said. ''It's just going to be different.''

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