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MOQTADA SADR URGED BY SH'IA AUTHORITIES TO LEAVE NAJAF AND KARBALA

Published Thursday, May 6, 2004



MOQTADA SADR URGED BY SH'IA AUTHORITIES TO LEAVE NAJAF AND KARBALA-Body

BAGHDAD 6 May (IPS) As representatives of Iraq's most influential Shi’ite leaders met to decide on the fate of Hojjatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, the turbulent cleric who is fighting the Coalition forces in Shi’a-dominated centres, the Americans launched on Wednesday their first major assault against Mr. Sadr and his Army of Mahdi in the areas he controls, including the holy Shi’ite city of Karbala.

Hundreds of Coalition soldiers in dozens of armoured vehicles, including M-1 Abram tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, rumbled beneath a full moon through a neighbourhood here controlled by armed supporters of Mr. Sadr, the New York Times reported.

“The firepower on display was extraordinary. Polish and Bulgarian soldiers, Special Forces snipers, an Apache attack helicopter and an AC-130 Spectre gunship backed up the main strike force”, the paper said, adding that the operation, called Iron Saber, began at 11 p.m. on Tuesday ran until dawn.

The firepower on display was extraordinary. Polish and Bulgarian soldiers, Special Forces snipers, an Apache attack helicopter and an AC-130 Spectre gunship backed up the main strike force

A similar battle took place at the same time in the city of Diwaniya, 100 kilometres southeast of Karbala, the Shi’a holiest cities for sheltering the shrine of Hussein, their second imam and symbol of justice and resistance to the oppressor.

Founded on the site where Hussein, second son of Ali, the Sh’ite’s first Imam and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and 72 of his followers were slain in battle by Sunni Muslim warriors in the eighth century, sealing the unending rift between the Sunnis and Shi’ites, Karbala is the pilgrimage centre for Shi’ites from all over the world, but mostly Iran, who make frequent pilgrimages to the golden-domed Shrines of Hussein and Abbas, his cousin.

The coordinated attacks in Karbala and in Diwaniya began hours after powerful Shi’ite politicians and religious leaders met in Baghdad to urge Mr. Sadr to withdraw his militia from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, in an attempt to safeguard the holy shrines from possible destruction.

About 150 leaders attended the gathering, representing many of Shi’ism's most influential political, religious and professional groups, among them representatives of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the Supreme assembly for the the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) that has close links with the neighbouring ayatollahs-ruled Iran.

Soldiers in Karbala killed at least 41 Iraqi fighters and captured many more, Lt. Col. Gary Bishop of the First Armoured Division said. A spokesman for Mr. Sadr said nine militiamen had been killed in the clashes in Diwaniya.

Founded on the site where Hussein, second son of Ali, the Sh’ite’s first Imam and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and 72 of his followers were slain in battle by Sunni Muslim warriors in the eighth century, sealing the unending rift between the Sunnis and Shi’ites, Karbala is the pilgrimage centre for Shi’ites from all over the world, but mostly Iran, who make frequent pilgrimages to the golden-domed Shrines of Hussein and Abbas, his cousin.

Members of Mr. Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, set off roadside bombs and fired rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles at the American convoy as it inched its way down a half-mile stretch of road through the heart of the neighbourhood.

"Hopefully we can put enough pressure on them to break their will to stay in Karbala", said Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, who flew down from Baghdad in a Black Hawk to watch the battle.

More than 2,500 American soldiers have surrounded the holy city of Najaf, where the shrine of Imam Ali is situated. But the soldiers have not invaded the city centre for fear of inflaming Shi’ites around the world and alienating the senior clerics of Najaf, whom American officials are hoping will oust the much-reviled Mr. Sadr.

However, the Americans have retaken the Najaf governor's office on the outskirts of the city, apparently without any resistance. The move came after the US-led coalition in Iraq named a new governor for the Najaf region.

Senior Iranian officials have repeatedly warned the Americans against attacking the holy shrines of Najaf and Karbala, saying openly that such an attack could lead to an outright war between the Americans with the Shi’ites worldwide.

The lead US military spokesman in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, insisted there was no new push into the city. "We're not going to go wading into Najaf, we know how sensitive it is," he told the British news agency Reuters.

Earlier on Thursday, the chief US civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, named Adnan al-Sharifi as the new provincial governor for Najaf and called on the militiamen occupying the city to lay down their arms.

MOQTADA SADR URGED BY SH'IA AUTHORITIES TO LEAVE NAJAF AND KARBALA-Body-3

"The people of the Middle Euphrates are eager for a return of normal life. They are going to have it", said Mr Bremer.

Although American commanders have hinted at an offensive soon against Mr. Sadr's force, they have repeatedly said they do not intend to attack the holy cities of Najaf or Karbala, hinting however that Kufa, a small city ten kilometres northeast of Najaf, where Mr. Sadr appears to have established his headquarters, might be attacked.

The Shi’ite leaders convened in Baghdad after it became clear that both the Islamic Republic and senior Shía authorities, above all Ayatollah Kazem Ha’eri, a hard line Iraqi cleric supposed to be the mentor of the young Mr. Sadr have let him down.

Several Shi’ite leaders acknowledged that they had delayed issuing their statement until there were clear signs that public opinion among Shiites had moved strongly against Mr. Sadr.

Reports in the past two weeks have spoken of a shadowy death squad calling itself the Thulfiqar Army shooting dead at least seven of Mr. Sadr's militiamen in Najaf, and several thousand people attended an anti-Sadr protest meeting outside the Imam Ali shrine in the city on Friday, according to several of the meeting's participants, the New York Times claimed.

Mr. Mahdi, from the SAIRI was blunt about Mr. Sadr's decline in popularity. "He's 100 percent isolated across most of the southern provinces; he's even isolated in Najaf. The people there regard him as having taken them hostage", he said.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the clerics called on Moqtada to stop turning the mosques into hiding places and weapons arsenals and return power to Iraqi police and civil defence units that operate under American control.

At the same time, they also called warned the Americans not to enter Najaf and Karbala in pursuit of Mr. Sadr.

MOQTADA SADR URGED BY SH'IA AUTHORITIES TO LEAVE NAJAF AND KARBALA-Body-2

This was not the first time that Iraqi Sh’ia authorities had urged Mr. Sadr to leave holy cities and put down arm offensive, but they were not heard, hence the strength of the last demand on him.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a suicide bomber killed five Iraqis and a US soldier outside an entrance to the main coalition headquarters in the capital Baghdad.

Several people were hurt, including two US soldiers said to be in a "very serious condition", in the first bomb attack to target coalition offices for weeks. ENDS IRAQ SADR 6504

 

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As of January 2009, this site is definitely closed, but you can follow Safa Haeri on his new blog: DAMAVAND at http://wwwdamavandsafa.blogspot.com


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