August 15, 2004

UNPOPULAR, OUT OF CONTROL, AND DYING:

Bad days in Najaf: Can the new government uphold the rule of law? (The Economist, Aug 12th 2004)

It is not obvious what Mr Sadr hopes to gain from this battle, either. He has already secured his revolutionary credentials, at the cost of over a thousand of his followers' lives. Could it be that the whole mess in Najaf began by accident?

The spark was a firefight on August 2nd. American marines say they were ambushed outside Mr Sadr's home. The Sadrists say the marines had come to arrest their leader. The incident may have been a misunderstanding. In the next few days, Mahdi Army gunmen came pouring into Najaf to “defend” Mr Sadr. In Baghdad, Kufa, Nasiriya, Basra and elsewhere, Sadrists attacked police stations and coalition troops.

At first, the government prodded Mr Sadr to distance himself from the uprising. “We don't think the people who are committing the crimes in Najaf and elsewhere are [Mr Sadr's] people,” said the prime minister on August 7th, before visiting Najaf. He may have been encouraged by signs that Mr Sadr was growing impatient with his followers' radicalism. When congregants interrupted a recent Friday sermon with chants denouncing the government, he called them “ignoramuses”.

But within days, the young firebrand was blazing away again. On August 10th, he vowed to fight until the “last drop of my blood”. The next day, he urged his followers to carry on even after his death.

It may not come to that. Whereas in April the Americans said they wanted to arrest Mr Sadr for the murder last year of a fellow cleric, Mr Allawi has indicated that he would be happy if the Mahdi Army simply left Najaf. The Sadrists could probably do so and still remain potent. Mr Sadr is unpopular in the holy city, where he is blamed for four months of misery and bloodshed. His support base lies elsewhere: in neighbouring Kufa, and in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City (named after his late father, a top cleric).


He's following, not leading, mobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 15, 2004 2:30 PM
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