Iraq: August 23, 2004

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Overnight, American troops moved closer to the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, destroying structures where Sadr gunmen have been taking shelter. Over the weekend, over 200 of Sadr's armed followers have been killed in the Najaf fighting. Sadr, whose whereabouts are unknown, has refused to disband his militia, and insists that the shrine will only be turned over to senior Shia clerics. But the clerics have not agreed to take possession, mainly because Sadr supporters, both armed and unarmed, are still in and around the shrine. American troops appear to be using the same "hunt them down and kill them" tactics against the Sadr gunmen that they used in April and May. Back then, these tactics killed so many Sadr followers that the militia basically dissolved, with the survivors hiding their guns and going back to being civilians. The fighting in Najaf has revealed that Sadr received some help from Sunni Arab Baath Party groups, as well as Iran. Sadr needs all the help he can get, because the government has Iraqi army commandos standing by to occupy the shrine, and thousands of police are already  arresting members (actual or suspected) of the Sadr militia. While Sadr appears strong in the media, he is very weak on the ground. Most of his armed followers are seen by local Iraqis as thugs, and all Sadr has to offer is the expulsion of coalition forces (and an increase of violence among Iraqis) and the establishment of an Islamic dictatorship (like the one in Iran, where there is no freedom and the economy is a mess). 

Fighting is also going on around Fallujah, where raids and bombing attacks continue to go after terrorist and Baath Party targets. 

 

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