IRAQ: Shiite vs. Shiite battle mounts
The relative peace created by the surge in Iraq is a fading memory. Talk of imminent strife dominates the news coming out of Iraq.
Cleric Muqtada Sadr, his forces under seige in Basra and Baghdad, warns of all-out war if the Iraqi government continues its offensive. Here's a translation of an extract from the statement he issued Saturday:
I am directing the final warning and talk to the Iraqi government to return to the right pathway, the peaceful way, reject violence towards its people — or they will be like Saddam's government. If the government would not return to the right pathway and rein in the militias that have interfered, we will announce an open war until liberation.
The Times' Baghdad Bureau chief Tina Susman also reports that Iran's ambassador to Baghdad praised Iraq's efforts in the southern city of Basra while, somewhat confusingly, condemning the U.S.-backed Iraqi operation against the same elements in Baghdad's Sadr City. Here's Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi:
The U.S. insistence on continuing this military action is a mistake, and it will lead to negative results that the Iraqi government will have to shoulder the responsibility for.
More troubles on another front line between rival Shiite factions. The Times' Ned Parker, Raheem Salman and Saad Fakhrildeen in Najaf and Baghdad report on ominous developments in the holy city of Najaf, the spiritual capital of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims:
Clerics and politicians speak in hushed tones about the names drawn up for assassination. Guards stand outside their compounds clutching assault rifles, and handguns rest on desks. No one can be trusted. All sides fear that dark times are coming to Najaf, the spiritual capital of Iraq's Shiite Muslims....The poisonous atmosphere of treachery and paranoia has consequences far beyond the alleyways of this ancient shrine city.
According to the report, if the all-important city of Najaf goes, so may the entire U.S. project in Iraq:
If it descends into violence, the entire Shiite south will almost certainly follow suit: U.S. forces will be stretched, the chances of a troop drawdown diminished. The Shiite parties involved will probably look to Iran to broker an end to the crisis. And chances for real political process will be on hold.
Finally, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller (yeah, that Judy Miller — accused of regurgitating Bush administration misinformation regarding Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction program) pens an opinion piece based on her recent trip to Baghdad.
She argues that it would be a mistake for the U.S. military to get tangled up in the brewing fight between Sadr and the Shiite factions represented by the Maliki government (which until recently included the Sadrists). Here's Miller:
Could things get worse? Yes. And they very well might if Washington, in the name of supporting the democratically elected Maliki government, gets our forces further embroiled in a battle among competing Shiite factions. ... Iraqis see the attack as an effort by Maliki — and by his ally of convenience, Abdelaziz Hakim, another Shiite leader who heads the Iranian-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq — to neuter Sadr and his more numerous, better-organized network in advance of provincial elections next October.
— Times staff writer
Photo: Supporters of Muqtada Sadr carry the casket of one of his deputies, assassinated in the holy city of Najaf last week. Credit: AFP
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