Monday, April 09, 2007

Huge anti-US Shiite demonstrations in Iraq

The fourth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall was the occasion for large Shiite anti-US demonstrations in Najef and Kufa.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites burned US flags and called for the Americans to leave in an anti-American protest in the southern city of Najaf today. The protests were ordered by our old pal pro-Iranian Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who also ordered his Mahdi Army militia to increase their attacks on US forces. He also called on Iraqi army and police: "You, the Iraqi army and police forces, don't walk alongside the occupiers, because they are your archenemy," his statement said.

Baghdad itself is under lockdown, with a curfew and a ban on vehicle traffic in force.

Waving red, white and black Iraqi flags, marchers choked the 7 km long road between Najaf and neighbouring Kufa and clogged streets leading to Sadrayn Square, the main rallying point. Many had come from Baghdad and Shi'ite towns and cities in the south.

Iraqi soldiers in uniform joined the crowd, which was led by at least a dozen turbaned clerics — including one Sunni, according to the A.P. Many marchers danced as they moved through the streets.

It was only four years ago that the world watched as some of these same people, helped by U.S. soldiers, toppled Saddam's 20-foot statue in Baghdad's central Firdous Square, trampled the pieces and danced for joy.

These are the people we spent blood and treasure to liberate.

al-Sadr himself is playing something of a waiting game. The Mahdi Army has generally been lying low during the Baghdad security plan, and allowed access to Sadr City for US and Iraqi part of a deal where we agreed to allow them to keep their weapons for `home defence.

As I reported here, that armistice seems to be coming to an end. As US has appeared to be successfully splintering Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and his control over it, hardline elements have begun a backlash against al-Sadr ordering his forces not to oppose the Americans.

There are over 3,000 Mahdi Army fighters who are now being armed and controlled directly by Iran and no longer consider themselves under Moqtada al-Sadr's orders, led by Qais al-Khazaal, an ex-aide of Mookie's. They are in Iran as I write this and are being armed and trained directly by Iran's elite Quds force.

These demonstrations and al-Sadr's new hardline rhetoric are an obvious attempt by al-Sadr to reaffirm his leadership of the Mahdi Army.

Another sign was the intense fighting that broke out in Diwaniya on Friday between the Mahdi Army and American-led forces who went into the city to apprehend militiamen.At least seven Iraqis were killed and 15 wounded in the fighting, and at least 39 militiamen were arrested during the weekend fighting. US soldiers also uncovered caches of particularly deadly explosives that came from Iran.

The Mahdi Army fighters began moving to Diwaniya and other southern cities (like Najaf) when the Baghdad crackdown began.

The fighting in Diwaniya is the most violent in months between the Mahdi Army and the Americans. Apparently, the days of the Shiite fighters going quietly are pretty much over.

1 comment:

Damian Lataan said...

The Bush government and their right-wing supporters everywhere have gone into damage control mode after the massive turnout of Iraqi people who demanded that the US leave Iraq. Their spin is that such a demonstration could not have been held if Saddam had remained in power. Beside the obvious Chutzpah here, whereby if Saddam was still in power there would be no need to have a demonstration to rid the nation of the US invaders in the first place, there is also the naivety in the right-wings implied belief that the Iraqi people actually didn’t mind having their nation destroyed, 650,000 of its people killed, another two million of its peoples made refugees, its resources plundered, and its people murdered by US troops on a daily basis just so that they can hold a demonstration and get to have a choice about which corrupt persons they’d prefer to have in a puppet government that exists only at the whim of the US.

When are the US and their western allies going to wake up to the fact that many of the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere are not interested in US-style ‘democracy’? They have been on the receiving end of its hypocrisy and arrogance for decades and are no more interested in it now than they were when Europeans first came to the Middle East in modern times to plunder it for its fuel to power their industrial and war machines.