Iraq: May 28, 2004


Muqtada al Sadr's willingness to accept a ceasefire, and withdraw his gunmen from the southern Iraqi cities containing Shia shrines, was forced on him by his demoralized followers and very angry residents of those cities. Al Sadrs armed followers are not suicidal, and as coalition troops relentlessly killed them off over the last week, some began to desert, and few new recruits stepped up. Al Sadr could have kept fighting and risked losing all of his militiamen, or agreed to a ceasefire and tried to salvage as much as he can. His other big problem is with the powerful business families of the holy cities like Najaf and Karbala. For centuries, these families have grown prosperous by providing goods and services for Shia pilgrims, especially from Iran. During Saddams rule, the number of Iranian pilgrims fell sharply. But since Saddam was ousted, business has been booming. However, since al Sadrs bully boys began taking over the government in the shrine cities, pilgrims have stayed away. That means no customers and no income for thousands of Shia Iraqis in those cities. So the al Sadr men felt increasing hostility from the very people they claimed to be protecting. To make matters worse, the al Sadr gunmen demanded that the local businessmen donate food and money for the militias. 

But defeating al Sadr isn't enough, for there are other Shia radical groups in southern Iraq and some of these groups are still willing to fight coalition troops. Thus there will still be shooting down south, as radicals try to establish their own dictatorships.

While fighting in Najaf and Karbala gets most of the attention from the media, the majority of the violence is still directed by Iraqis (and some foreign terrorists) against Iraqis. One example that did get some attention in the west was yesterdays unsuccessful assassination attempt against Iraqi Governing Council member, Salama al-Khafaji. She was ambushed by al Qaeda (who later claimed credit) gunmen as she was returning to Baghdad from Najaf, where she had been involved in the negotiations between coalition military commanders and al Sadr militia leaders. 

The Baath Party and al Qaeda have a vested interest in making sure that democracy does not work in Iraq. Baath wants to have their secular dictatorship back and al Qaeda wants a religious dictatorship. For the moment, the two, who are normally enemies, work together. Each believes that, once the Americans are gone and the Shia and Kurds subdued, they can eliminate their rivals. Naturally, the Shia Arabs and Kurds are quite intent on preventing a return of Baath, or the establishment of a Sunni Arab religious dictatorship. This is an important issue, because al Qaeda is very much a Sunni Arab religious movement. The Sunni Arabs who set religious policy for al Qaeda consider Shia Moslems heretics. The Kurds, although they are mostly Sunni, are an Indo-European people, and thus always considered suspect by the Arabs. 

The Baath and al Qaeda terrorists know that once there is majority rule in Iraq, Shia and Kurds will be in control, and out for blood. Most of the al Qaeda support in Iraq comes from religious Sunni Arabs. Most of the still active Baath members are Sunni Arab. The ongoing, and likely to get worse, civil war in Iraq has been largely ignored by the media, which prefers to see the violence as a popular uprising against foreign occupation. But the majority of the country is at peace, and troops and foreign civilians working in Iraq are mystified and bemused by the way the foreign media covers events in Iraq.


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