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Between the Lines

August 17, 2004

The stakes in Najaf

The battle against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia in the holy city of Najaf, spearheaded by U.S. forces, is a high-stakes encounter for the U.S. The city is one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, and our troops are viewed by some Iraqis as infidel desecrators. This has led a reported 3,000 Iraqi civilians to enter the shrine of Imam Ali, the key site in the city, as human shields. How this confrontation plays out may well help define the U.S. effort in Iraq for a long time to come.

Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor and Middle East expert who also writes a widely respected blog, answered readers questions online at The Washington Post's Web site today (free registration may be required). It's an illuminating read. Here are some snips.

Muqtada [al-Sadr] wants an Iran-style government in Iraq, and is a follower of the ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini. He is also a strong Iraqi nationalist and finds foreign, Christian Occupation impossible to accept. Obviously, he cannot get a Shiite-dominated, clerical theocracy in Iraq as long as the Americans are occupying the country. So he has to try to get them out first. I think his dedication to an independent Iraq is primary, since he is risking his life for it. If he only wanted power, he would operate more carefully so as to ensure he was alive to get it.

No, I don't think Iran is behind the Sadr movement or the Mahdi militia. It is a homegrown phenomenon, springing from the Shiite Iraqi ghettoes. Actually the Sadr movement are very critical of Iranian dominance of Iraqi Shiism. The Iranians probably give Muqtada some money and supplies, but they give money to all major Iraqi factions-- Ahmad Chalabi, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Kurds, etc. They seem to want to make sure that whoever comes out on top has reason to be grateful to them.

I think that if the Shrine of Ali in Najaf (it is not just a mosque) is stormed by Iraqi troops or by Americans, the effects will be horrible for everyone. Shiites all over the world are already enraged by what the US military has done to the sacred cemetery. We had a demonstration here in Dearborn, Michigan, by Iraqi Shiites who used to support the Bush administration policies toward Iraq. I think the Allawi caretaker government has undermined itself and will be completely shot if it takes this step. And I think Americans will suffer for years to come from the rage of Shiites. The shrine of Ali is a very major thing in people's spiritual lives there and they feel it is being desecrated.

High stakes indeed. Here's an update on today's events.

Posted by tbrown at 12:13 PM


Terror arrests in Britain

The Brits charged eight men with conspiracy to commit murder and other terrorist offenses today and a ninth with possession of a prohibited weapon. Some of the men were charged with possessing detailed information about the major U.S. financial institutions determined to be possible targets following arrests earlier last month in Pakistan.

There also was concern over a possible new terror plot that could have been hatched at a "terrorist summit" in Pakistan.

Posted by tbrown at 12:10 PM


Kerry's war record

The L.A. Times (free site registration may be required) has a good wrapup of the flap over the allegations lodged by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth 13 men who didn't serve under John Kerry but who claim, nonetheless, that he's lying about at least some details of his Vietnam service. The ad the group is running in Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia is, to put it politely, at least as inaccurate as anything Kerry has said, but it clearly has the Kerry campaign worried.

Posted by tbrown at 12:09 PM


Movies liberal answer to talk radio?

Have movies become the liberal answer to right-wing talk radio? Maybe, says Political Animal Kevin Drum, who lines up a pretty extensive list of flicks that are unlikely to do George Bush any good.

Posted by tbrown at 12:07 PM




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