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The "Rebel Cleric" and the Siege of Najaf

by MIKE WHITNEY

 

“They say freedom and democracy and yet they appoint a government. Appointment cannot agree with freedom and democracy. Rather, we are demanding with all our strength the formation of an Iraqi government and sovereignty, but not through the Americans and occupiers. They have no right to interfere with Iraqi affairs whatsoever…”

Muqtada al Sadr

“Al Sadr must be killed or captured.”

General Mark Kimmet

“Shia leader Muqtada al Sadr has rejected an ultimatum to withdraw his besieged fighters…and US troops are reportedly advancing from several directions”

Al Jazeera Thurs, Aug 19

The siege of Najaf has two clearly defined objectives; disband the “al Mehdi” militia and restore the city to occupation control.

The conflict is being heralded as the “first major test” of the new provisional government of US “appointee” Ayad Allawi. Most critics conclude that if the US military backs down now the credibility of the new regime will be in shambles.

So, the siege will continue.

Early reports from Al Jazeera indicate that fighting has already resumed and that “29 casualties have been brought in from clashes in the heart of the city.”

The current conflict with al Sadr has been quickly conveyed to most of the major cities in Iraq. The possibility of a widespread Shiite rebellion seems inevitable.

As journalist Robert Fisk predicted some weeks ago, “Iraq is ready to explode.”

The “ham-fisted” approach of the Bush Administration has only exacerbated the situation, excluding all options except violence. The cynicism that guides the policy decisions in Najaf illustrates the vast chasm that exists between the sensibilities of the Bush Administration and the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

As Michael Schwartz puts it in a recent Z Magazine article “Gambling in Najaf”:

“The agony of the current American offensive begins with the death and destruction it is wreaking on an ancient and holy city. Beyond that, the primary damage may lie in the less visible horror that animates this new military strategy. The U.S. is no longer capable either of winning the “battle for the hearts and minds” of the Iraqis or governing most of the country. But by crushing the city of Najaf, the Marines might be able quiet the rebellion for long enough to spin the November election back to Bush.”

The siege of Najaf makes it plain that winning “hearts and minds” was never part of Washington’s strategy. Instead, Bush is pursuing the misguided approach of trying to secure a victory against a civilian population.

The action is guaranteed to invoke the condemnation of the world community and alienate even more Iraqis.

Never the less, the administration needs a victory to celebrate at the upcoming Republican National Convention regardless of whether it produces another Falluja-type massacre or not. At present, all we know is that the battle has been engaged and the death toll is mounting.

There are worrisome signs that the battle for Najaf will be a “no-holds-barred” campaign. The Allawi government has ordered the expulsion of all members of the press from the city.

Najaf’s police chief issued a warning to the media saying, “We will kill you if you leave your hotel. I will put four snipers on the roof to shoot anyone who leaves.”

This strongly suggests that the Bush Administration wants no written or photographic record of the brutality they are planning.

The curtains are being drawn so the savagery can begin.

If we use siege of Falluja as a reference point, we can expect a cut off of supplies to the city, a disruption of electrical and water supplies, a shutting down of major hospitals, a placing of snipers around the city (shooting at anyone who leaves their home), a bombing campaign that kills and maims civilians, and the various other terrorist tactics we have seen employed by the occupation army.

Only now the action will bear the imprimatur of America’s new Iraqi puppet Allawi.

As far as the western media is concerned, that “legitimizes” the onslaught.

On the receiving end of this aggression, is Muqtada al Sadr, the only leader in Iraq who has publicly railed against the occupation. His fiery rhetoric and intransigence has galvanized the Muslim world and rallied Iraqis to his cause.

Al Sadr realizes what is obvious to the objective observer, but denied by many Iraqis; that America will never leave except by force.

“I will never take any post as long as the occupation persists. There can be no politics under occupation, no freedom under occupation, no democracy under occupation.” (Muqtada al Sadr)

Al Sadr should be respected for his clear-sightedness.

Understandably, the western media has demonized al Sadr, lambasting him as a “firebrand” or better still “the radical cleric”. They have been successful in dismissing him as a “David Koresh in black robes”; a comical figure with the unmitigated gall of defying the empire.

(The media has a long history of lampooning populist leaders who resist American coercion)

Those who support the Iraqi resistance shouldn’t be deterred by these feeble attacks on his character. Nor should it matter.

The leaders who take up this battle against the occupation are on the front lines of the resistance to America’s global war. They are doing their job… they don’t need to be perfect.

It’s more important that we see the correlation between Al Sadr’s struggle for liberation and the effort of American’s to reestablish civil liberties and the rule of law at home. Al Sadr is simply an intermediary in the fight against the same forces that are arrayed against the American public; the forces of extremism and self-righteousness.

We should be grateful for his courage.

As for the American servicemen who are killed in battle; (as author Arundhati Roy says) “They are conscripts in a poverty draft” fighting for a cause that is not just.

Responsibility for their deaths lies with George Bush not Muqtada al Sadr or the Iraqi resistance.

The Siege

The governor of the province in which Najaf is located, Adnan al-Zorfi, told a press conference, “This operation will never stop before all the militia leave the city.”

His comments seem to reflect those of the Bush Administration who is determined to “kill or capture” al Sadr to set an example to insurgents across the country.

It is a perilous strategy.

So far, an estimated 1,000 Iraqis have surrounded the Imam Ali Mosque as “human shields” and are vowing to sacrifice their lives for their champion al Sadr.

On another front, supporters of al Sadr in Amara are threatening to attack the main southern pipeline if occupation troops do not leave the city. (This is the same group that claimed responsibility for setting fire to an oil well just days ago.)

The Secret Action Group of the Imam issued this communique: “This is a simple warning to the government of PM Allawi and to the occupation forces, that we will bomb the main south oil export line if they do not leave Najaf within 48 hours and end the siege.”

Their action could have a dramatic affect on already skyrocketing oil prices.

Even more disturbing, are rumors that the Imam Ali Mosque has been wired by supporters of al Sadr and could be detonated if it is violated by intruders. This would have a catastrophic affect on Muslims around the world that would see it as a direct attack on Islam.

The stage is set for any number of potential disasters. There are no victories to be had in applying “jackboot” tactics to popular movements; only more suffering and carnage.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com

 

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MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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