Iraq: August 28, 2004


  Najaf was quiet overnight, after thousands of Iraqis, answering Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al Sistani's call for the peaceful occupation of the Imam Ali shrine, poured into the shrine complex. Muqtada al Sadr's gunmen are still there, however, but without their guns. Sadr men stood around, dressed in black, making it clear that they were still there and still a threat. Many refused to surrender their weapons, but carried them off to hiding places. However, Iraqi police and soldiers did patrol Najaf. But it was clear that Sadr's men could quickly confront the police with heavily armed fighters. Sadr's men continue to intimidate local leaders in Najaf, as they have done for over a year. Sadr is suspected of being behind the murder of several senior religious leaders in Najaf recently. Najaf has long been the scene of tribes and powerful religious leaders fighting openly for control of the lucrative and prestigious shrines. Over the centuries, agreements had been worked out to insure that the shrines were run and maintained with a minimum of violence. Muqtada al Sadr's attempt to seize, and keep, control of the Imam Ali shrine is nothing new, but it is ambitious for such a young man (who, while from a prominent religious family, is still in training to be a cleric.)


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