[Marxism] US brings the slaughter to al-Sadr's stronghold
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon May 24 02:43:08 MDT 2004
U.S. Forces Move Into Stronghold Of Cleric
Insurgents Scatter as Hunt For Their Leader Intensifies
By Daniel Williams and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 24, 2004; Page A01
KARBALA, Iraq, May 23 -- U.S. forces expanded an offensive against rebel
cleric Moqtada Sadr on Sunday by pushing into his stronghold of Kufa for
the first time, as his armed followers vanished from the streets of this
Shiite holy city.
The battle for southern Iraq, which has occupied U.S. soldiers for
weeks, appears to have shifted from a broad engagement across several
fronts to a sustained battle aimed at a single elusive objective: Sadr,
who leads thousands of militiamen, known as the Mahdi Army.
For seven weeks, U.S. forces have been killing scores of the fighters
loyal to Sadr, who has fomented an anti-American insurrection in a
region once receptive to the occupation. But the Americans have largely
left Sadr alone, fearing that killing him could turn him into a martyr.
The U.S. military's first push into Kufa, where Sadr preaches each
Friday, and a strike on a convoy carrying his top aide over the weekend
suggest that U.S. commanders have set aside that concern.
U.S. military officers involved in the operation say the assault in
Kufa, which began before dawn Sunday and continued into the night, is
the latest phase in a campaign that has squeezed Sadr forces out of Kut,
Diwaniyah and, over the weekend, the holy city of Karbala.
"We're closing in," said a military official familiar with the
operation, declining to characterize it as a hunt specifically for Sadr.
"We're keeping the pressure on."
U.S. military officials have five weeks to tame a broad insurgency
before an interim Iraqi government assumes limited political authority
from the Americans. Quieting the rebellion has become among the most
pressing security concerns for U.S. officials as anti-occupation
sentiments rise in the run-up to the June 30 handover.
The resistance appeared first in the Sunni Triangle, a region north and
west of Baghdad once devoted to ousted president Saddam Hussein. Earlier
this month, Marine commanders withdrew from Fallujah, a city in the area
and a hotbed of insurgent activity, and ended a siege against the
insurgents there. The Marines handed security responsibilities to a
group of former Baath Party members who once served in Hussein's army.
The move failed to end attacks against U.S. troops. One Marine and one
army soldier were killed Sunday just outside Fallujah when their convoy
was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. Putting the former army
officers in power also angered Iraq's majority Shiite population, which
suffered under Hussein's Sunni-led government.
U.S. officials have ruled out negotiating with Sadr to win his
withdrawal from Najaf and the demobilization of the Mahdi Army. They
have called on Sadr to submit to face charges in the killing of
Abdel-Majid Khoei, a moderate rival cleric who was stabbed in April
Mainstream Shiite political and religious leaders, some of whom command
their own party militias, have been unable to agree on who would make up
a local security force to control Najaf. Their negotiations have
produced new divisions among the Shiites, and U.S. officials have
expressed little hope of their success.
"If there is progress to be made, we are open-minded, given that those
two conditions are met -- Moqtada al-Sadr faces justice and his illegal
militia disbanded and disarmed," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the
chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "But in the interim, we will
continue to use our own methods for getting Moqtada's militia off the
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