FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

US Troops Threaten to Enter Najaf

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Baghdad

American troops will enter parts of the holy city of Najaf to crush the radical Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr but will avoid its sacred sites, a US general said yesterday.

Shia leaders have warned there will be an explosion of anger among the 15 to 16 million Iraqi Shia if US soldiers enter Najaf, where Imam Ali, the founder of their faith, is buried in a golden-domed shrine.

“We’re going to drive this guy [Sadr] into the dirt,” said Brigadier General Mark Hertling, the deputy commander of the 1st Armoured Division. “Either he tells his militia to put down their arms, form a political party and fight with ideas not guns, or he’s going to find a lot of them killed.”

These are fighting words from General Hertling which imply that Iraq is on the verge of a new convulsion as attacks on US forces are becoming more sophisticated and wide-ranging. The assault on Iraq’s two main oil terminals off the port of Umm Qasr in the Gulf on Saturday by three suicide boats loaded with explosives demonstrated the ability of the insurgents to constantly surprise their enemies. . Two US sailors were killed in the attack when a dhow exploded as they approached and two other dhows were blown up. A third sailor died of wounds yesterday. The Basra terminal, which handles 85 per cent of Iraq’s 1.9 million barrels per day of exports, was also shut down for damage assessment. But greater dangers await the US in Najaf where Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the revered Shia religious leader, has said if US troops enter Najaf, or Kerbala, they will cross a red line, implying general Shia resistance.

The US aims to make limited forays into the Iraqi cities they have besieged, asserting a measure of control without provoking battles. “We will probably go into the central part of the city,” General Hertling said. “Will we interfere in the religious institutions? Absolutely not.”

But Sadr’s men are in control of the shrine of Imam Ali in the heart of Najaf, which is not a big city, and it would be difficult for the US troops with their massive firepower to pursue Sadr and his Army of Mehdi militiamen without damaging the shrine or the vast cemetery which is an ideal hiding-place for guerrillas.

In Fallujah, US soldiers will start to patrol with Iraqi security officers today, Hachem al-Hassani, the main negotiator with local leaders in Fallujah, said. “We hope the US soldiers will not be attacked when they enter the city,” he said. “If they are attacked, they will respond and this will lead to problems.” Yesterday, a bloody incident in Baghdad in which US soldiers in Humvees killed four Iraqi children after coming under attack further inflamed anti-US feeling. One US soldier had died in an explosion on Canal Street and the four Iraqi children were killed immediately afterwards, shot dead by US troops firing at random, witnesses claimed.

“I saw a child lying on the street with a bullet hole in his neck and another in his side,” a driver said. “He had his schoolbag on his back. About 15 minutes later his relatives came and took him away.”

The children had just left their school nearby to look at a blazing Humvee. They were dancing around it in celebration when they were shot. At least five other Iraqis were wounded, one critically, with a bullet in his head, officials at al-Kindi hospital said. Several US soldiers were wounded by the blast. It is not clear how much influence the local leaders in Fallujah have over the guerrillas in control of the city. The US has demanded heavy weapons be handed over, but so far only a few rusted and ageing rockets and mortar bombs were given up.

The US would like to force the guerrillas step by step out of Fallujah and Najaf by tough talk alone. If this fails, then its military and civilian leaders may feel they have no alternative but to attack or be seen as weak by Iraqis. Yesterday, Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, said the lack of consistency in the policy of the US-led allies was seen by Iraqis as weakness. After the US decided to allow Baathist generals back into the new Iraqi army, he said: “In London and Washington it may look like a virtue to show flexibility over the Baathists. But here they will simply think you are being defeated.” Mr Zebari, a veteran Kurdish leader, said many of the US mistakes were attributable to “its lack of good intelligence”.

He believes the US security policy collapsed this month when half of the US-trained police, paramilitary and army mutinied or refused to fight. “The only Iraqi army battalion which stood and fought was made up of men from the political parties because they politically committed to the new order.” The ferocity and success of the guerrillas is partly attributable to covert assistance from Iraq’s neighbours, Mr Zebari added.

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail