April 24, 2004


Radical Cleric Is Unwanted by His Neighbors (ABDUL RAZZAQ AL-SAEIDY and EDWARD WONG, 4/24/04, NY Times)

The black-turbaned imam sounded ready for martyrdom.

Standing in the courtyard of the golden-domed Shrine of Ali on Friday, staring at 2,500 worshipers seated on rugs, the imam, Sadr al-Din al-Kubanchi, hurled words as sharp as scimitars at the army that had invaded this holy city.

But the soldiers he denounced were not Americans but members of the ragtag Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army. Dozens of them, bristling with Kalashnikovs and grenade belts, surrounded the shrine even as Mr. Kubanchi spoke.

They and their young spiritual leader, Moktada al-Sadr, had brought their war with the Americans to Najaf nearly three weeks ago, when they retreated here after a short-lived revolt against the occupation forces. More than 2,500 American soldiers have encircled the city in an attempt to flush out Mr. Sadr — and the residents here are caught in the middle.

"It's not brave to take refuge in the house or the mosque or the markets and use women and children as human shields," Mr. Kubanchi said of the Mahdi Army. "They are people who are trying to cheat you, and they are people from the regime of Saddam Hussein, former intelligence officers. They want to drag you into battle to be destroyed. If that happens, the soldiers will attack Najaf, and our enemies will happily see our blood flow."

The standoff in Najaf has turned into a showdown between the clerics of the city and Mr. Sadr, as the religious and tribal leaders here try to nudge their unwanted neighbor out of town.

They are men of the book rather than of the bullet, so they are seeking to pry Mr. Sadr loose through their powers of rhetoric.

They know that the hopes of a majority of Shiites of overcoming the long-running domination of Sunni Muslims rest with the success of the Americans' efforts to establish a largely democratic Iraq. They know, as well, that by advocating armed rebellion, Mr. Sadr's forces play into the hands of the violent Iraqi insurgents who seek to drive the United States out and reassert Sunni dominance.

Gingerly, since Mr. Sadr now runs the city, they have handed out flyers and given speeches urging the Mahdi Army to take its fight elsewhere. They have done so while their mosques and homes are surrounded by undisciplined militiamen.

The bad behavior of one rather minor cleric has been one of the most misreported stories to come out of an Iraq where the Shi'ites remain our de facto allies.

The Sunni are not, U.S. Issues Blunt Warning to Besieged Falluja Rebels: American authorities warned that if the insurgents did not lay down their arms, U.S. soldiers would attack within days. (IAN FISHER and STEVEN R. WEISMAN, 4/24/04, NY Times)

The American authorities increased the pressure on besieged insurgents in the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Falluja on Friday with a series of blunt warnings that if they did not lay down their arms, United States soldiers would attack within days.

A senior Bush administration official in Washington said that although a decision had not been made to attack pending a final round of negotiations, "there isn't much time left." He said the administration felt a sense of urgency because the insurgents had turned over only outdated weapons and because Falluja faced an imminent human crisis, with residents in dire need of food and medicine.

"Our patience is not eternal," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief spokesman for the American-led military command in Baghdad.

Crush Fallujah, spare Najaf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2004 8:31 AM

But kill Sadr and every black-dressed man with an AK.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 24, 2004 9:52 AM

Not within the city limits.

Posted by: oj at April 24, 2004 10:08 AM

Well, if you believe what you've just posted, you have to rethink pulling out.

Because it is obvious, is it not, that if we're gone and it comes down to a contest between men with guns and men who try discussion, it's the men with guns who will control the government?

That's where we came in. What were we thinking of?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 25, 2004 12:22 AM

All government ever is in the end is a choice of which guys with guns.

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2004 12:44 AM

Well, then, you have your answer. You're pro-Muqtadar.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 25, 2004 7:55 PM

He's not mighty; he's terrified.

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2004 8:00 PM

My morning talk-radio station often jokes about "The Holy City of fill-in-the-blank" and how about Islam has so many of these Holy Cities.

Was it some sort of civic boosterism in the early days of Islam to get your hometown declared a Holy City?

Posted by: Ken at April 26, 2004 1:09 PM
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