[Marxism] Sistani calls on "armed forces" to leave the city; US will continue attack

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed May 19 09:43:29 MDT 2004


Several weeks after US troops invaded the cities, it seems probable that
they are  bogged down. They seem to be winning what they call "tactical"
or "military" (based on a "military" conception that has never decided
ANY war, including World War I and II). But they are making little in
the way of decisive "strategic" progress.  Almost each day they march
into new sites -- this or that mosque or public building -- which are
proclaimed conquered. Large body counts are reported.  But it is not
clear that they retain control even the areas surrounding these sites,
or those that they have already passed through, or that they are making
ANY progress toward breaking the fighting capacity of the Mahdi army.
And the fight goes on the next day, much as it did the day before.

At least that is the impression the news coverage persistently leaves.

This item from the Times is basically occupation propaganda, although it
glumly notes that Sistani did not, as they were hoping, aim his call for
withdrawal as either a direct or indirect criticism of al-Sadr.

While I think it is certain that fighters from outside Najaf and Karbala
have joined the battle, the assertion that Republican Guard commanders
-- commanders, no less! -- are fighting with the Mahdi army sounds like
bull aimed at alienating local people from the revolt. Of course, the
Shia population has had very negative experiences with the Republican
Guard and I doubt that former "commanders" would feel very safe in those
cities or even among the Mahdi army.
The US officers also leave the impression that Iranian fighters who
succeed in getting away (no indication of their bodies being found)
leave their Iranian id cards behind for the occupation troops to find.

Sloppy, sloppy Iranians!
Fred Feldman





New York Times
Cleric Tells Fighters and Occupiers to Leave Iraq Sacred Cities
By EDWARD WONG

Published: May 19, 2004


KARBALA, Iraq, May 18 - The country's most influential cleric called
Tuesday for the withdrawal of all armies from two holy cities, Karbala
and Najaf, in an effort to end days of bloody fighting and preserve the
sanctity of Shiite shrines.

The Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, demanded in a
statement that "armed forces" must "leave the holy cities and open the
way for the police and tribal forces." His remarks were directed at both
American troops and militiamen loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, a young rebel
cleric who ignited an insurrection against the occupation forces six
weeks ago.
 
Ayatollah Sistani also asked people to stage peaceful protests in the
cities against the fighting. 

In a parallel development, two of Washington's strongest allies in Iraq,
Italy and Poland, called for the transfer of real authority to the
Iraqis on June 30. 

American and other occupation troops have been clashing in cities across
southern Iraq with rebel Shiite militias. 

The fiercest battles have been in Karbala, where American soldiers are
dug in at a mosque once held by the insurgents. Last Friday, violence
erupted in the sprawling cemetery near the center of Najaf, as American
tanks encircled the area to kill militiamen who were firing mortars from
among the graves. 

The battles have been inching ever closer to the Shrine of Ali in Najaf
and the Shrines of Hussein and Abbas in Karbala, dedicated to the three
most revered martyrs of Shiite Islam.

Ayatollah Sistani's statement, issued by his office, was his strongest
criticism of the fighting between the Americans and Mr. Sadr. Though
Ayatollah Sistani is believed to dislike Mr. Sadr, and the Americans are
relying on him to rein in the rebel cleric, the ayatollah noticeably did
not single out either side. The Shiite religious establishment has yet
to condemn Mr. Sadr, presumably because senior clerics are reluctant to
turn on one of their own.

Some clerics have already asked Mr. Sadr to withdraw from the holy
cities, but he has yet to comply, and it is unlikely that he will heed
Ayatollah Sistani's demands, even though he has said he will disarm his
militia if the grand ayatollahs demand it. 

Mr. Sadr's influence is based on the popularity of his martyred father,
Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who denounced Ayatollah Sistani and other senior
clerics for what he called their complacency in the face of Saddam
Hussein's oppression.

On Tuesday afternoon, occupation officials said they had not received a
copy of Ayatollah Sistani's statement. "We have to obviously look
closely at it, make a determination as to whether or not Ayatollah
Sistani has expressed wishes on this particular issue," said Dan Senor,
a spokesman for the occupation.

An American officer said in an interview in Karbala that the military
would press its campaign against Mr. Sadr.

"He is going to either have his militia lay down their arms, or we're
going to defeat them," said the officer, Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling,
assistant division commander for support of the First Armored Division,
which is trying to crush Mr. Sadr's forces.

General Hertling, on a visit from Baghdad, said there were indications
that a steady flow of fighters from outside the cities was bolstering
the insurgent Mahdi Army, which is generally made up of young, poor
Shiite men. The general declined to give more details on the fighters,
but field commanders here in Karbala said members of Mr. Hussein's elite
Special Republican Guard, mostly well-trained Sunni Arab warriors, could
be joining the insurgent forces here.
Rest of article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/19/international/middleeast/19IRAQ.html





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