Thursday, August 26, 2004

Firing On Demonstrants

In seems US-created Iraqi forces in Najaf governate are hell-bent upon preventing a peaceful solution in Najaf. There are now half a dozen events with deaths, altough most news reports don't separate them, so here is a little summary.

First, yesterday Iraqi National Guard shot at Sadrists who were walking from Kufa to Najaf, after Sadr urged his followers to join the peaceful pilgrimage to Najaf Sistani called for, killing eight. (See Juan Cole and AP reports.) Today, the Grand Mosque of Kufa (the center of Sadrism), with worshippers inside, was hit by mortars, with dozens of dead. Later that thay, the Sadrists again attempted to march to Najaf, and again were fired at (see alphabetcity too). At the same time, another mosque in Kufa was fired on.

But also today, protesters arriving from Diwaniyyah were also fired upon (see middle of this report). This group may be identical with the Sistani supporters who are claimed to be shot at after armed gunmen mixed among them to shoot at police (see this Reuters report). However, Juan Cole misunderstood a report about two dead in Hilla, believing they were shot at in Hilla - but they were only transported to the hospital there from Kufa.

Now, hopefully, this outrageous carnage won't stop Sistani's move, and politics can reign again. If it will, we will see whether Sadr or Sistani will come out better from this. Raed Jarrar is sarcastic about Sistani calling for a 10 million man march but achieving a 10,000-man one, but that may still be more than what Sadr can mobilise - so I would't dismiss Sistani just because of that. Also, if he succeeds as peacemaker, that will make him regain some of the popularity lost outside Najaf because of his silence after his "Red Line" was violated. (As for inside Najaf, I'm not sure how much he lost, i.e. to what extent the civilian dead from snipers and bombings could be accepted as 'collateral damage' for crushing the Sadrists by the mostly middle-class, pro-Hakim, pro-Sistani Najafis.) The question is whether Sistani can find a way of peacemaking that weakens Sadr (as he surely wants to), or not.


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