Iraq: August 6, 2004

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Muqtada al Sadr's Shia radical militia battled US and Iraqi troops in the last two days, first in the holy city of Najaf, and then other cities with a Shia majority. Sadr's men have been quiet for the last two months, but in the last week became more aggressive in defying the new interim government. Sadr gunmen began to shoot at police and use force to keep police patrols out of some neighborhoods. In the last week, Sadr's men began to attack police stations. In Najaf, this caused the police to call for backup by American troops. At first, on the 5th, Muqtada al Sadr called for his followers to rise up in revolt. After 24 hours of fighting, it apparently occurred to Sadr that his militias could be destroyed. This is what nearly happened in April and May, when several brigades of American troops went into the southern cities that had Sadr militias, killing hundreds of Sadr's men, and causing most of the rest to hide their guns and quit the militia business for a bit. Sadr agreed to a ceasefire. A few of Sadr's followers kept fighting into early June, but most were killed by American and Iraqi troops. Today, Sadr wants the ceasefire reinstalled, but he does not have complete control over the gunmen who say they are his followers. Many of these guys are just young Shia men with guns, who want to have their own way. That means stealing, extortion and ignoring the Iraqi police. Sadr apparently realizes that if it comes to another armed showdown, his gunmen are not going to do any better than last time. In fact, another round of fighting could destroy the Sadr militia. This is because more Iraqi police and troops are now involved. The Iraqi police can go find Sadr men who try to fade back into the civilian population, and, in general, shut down the Sadr organization. Sadr had been successful in negotiating with the new government to keep his militia, and avoid arrest for murdering other Shia clergymen who opposed him. But Sadr is basically a thug, and a thug with a bunch of gunmen behind him is a potential dictator.

In the north, the Kurdish militias remain in place, and Kurds and Arabs are still glaring at each other while holding onto their guns.  

In the first six months of the year, American troops in and around Baghdad suffered, on average, a daily basis, 7-8 roadside bombs, 4-5 attacks by men with AK-47s, about five mortar shells, RPG rockets or larger rockets fell on their camps, and three attacks on convoys. 

 

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