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.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington