Iraq: April 14, 2004


For the past year, Iraqi criminal gangs have been flourishing via extortion, robbery, smuggling and kidnapping. In most parts of Iraq, the gangs have been cut down to size month by month as more police came on duty. But in the south, several thousand armed followers of radical Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr have gone on a rampage. Many police, who have been threatened and bullied by al Sadrs gangs for months, fled their jobs. Now the criminals and al Sadr thugs could go after foreigners (to kidnap and rob) and truck convoys coming up from Kuwait. Most of the truck convoys are full of goods for the Iraqi population, but the gangs try and stop and loot any trucks they can. These attacks are high risk operations, because coalition troops and aircraft patrol the main highways. When attackers are caught, they usually die (helicopter gunships can't take prisoners.) The increased ambushes will go on until most of the gunmen are killed, and the rest figure out that the risk is not worth the reward. The hostage taking has run into foreign governments who will not give in to demands, and local Iraqi leaders who quickly apply pressure to let the foreigners go. So after a few weeks, kidnapping foreigners will go out of fashion.

Negotiations to get al Sadr and hundreds of his gunmen out of the Islamic shrines of Najaf are going slowly, and the Shia clerics negotiating with Sadr are losing patience. Most clerics have countless complaints from their followers about bullying from al Sadrs young thugs. The Shia clergy are threatening to approve the movement of American troops into Najaf. The American troops outside the city have said they are there to arrest Sadr, or kill him. Sadr is accused of setting up death squads that killed two senior Shia clerics, and many other Iraqis who opposed Sadr. 


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