Sunday, August 15, 2004

Got a Match? 

Courtesy of our esteemed colleagues at The All Spin Zone: AP is reporting that the Iraqi police earlier today ordered all journalists out of Najaf just as American forces were preparing to re-enter the city:
Earlier Sunday, police had advised reporters to leave Najaf, saying there was rumor of a potential car bombing targeting journalists. When most reporters stayed, the police returned with the order to leave.
And, as it turned out, not a moment too soon:
U.S. tanks and troops rolled back into the center of Najaf and battled with Shiite militants Sunday, reigniting violence in the holy city just as delegates in Baghdad opened a conference meant to be a landmark in the country's movement toward democracy.

The collapse of the cease-fire in Najaf after the failure of negotiations cast a shadow over the National Conference in Baghdad, which gathered 1,000 religious, tribal and political leaders from across Iraq (news - web sites). Some of the delegates threatened to walk out unless the government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi put an end to the fighting.

In more of the violence plaguing the country, insurgents fired a mortar barrage hours after the conference opened — apparently targeting Baghdad's Green Zone district where the gathering was taking place but instead hitting a commuter bus station, killing two people and wounding 17 others, according to the Health Ministry . . . .

Allawi's attempts to show he is in control — already strained by the unending Sunni-led insurgency — have been undermined by the fighting in Najaf against the militiamen of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The country's Shiite majority has been angered at the sight of U.S. troops firing around some of their holiest sites — and many have blamed the Iraqi government . . . .

An explosion, believed to be from a tank round, landed near the outer wall of the compound housing the revered Imam Ali Shrine, the militants' informal headquarters and Iraq's holiest Shiite site, said al-Sadr aide Ahmed al-Shaibany. "The shrine was not hit," he said.

Any damage to the shrine itself would further enrage Iraq's Shiite majority, and swell anger at Allawi's government.
The ASZ crew also tracked down an unsubstantiated rumor (by which we mean a Fox News report) that the insurgents may have planted bombs in the Imam Ali mosque. "The story continues that Iran is supplying al-Sadr with troops and supplies."

To recap: National Conference in shambles; tanks rolling into Najaf; thousands of Shiites arriving to form a human shield around Muqtada al-Sadr; the holiest shrine in Iraq supposedly wired -- by the Shiites, mind you -- to blow sky-high if anyone flips a lit cigarette butt at it; bombs no doubt supplied by Iran, domino #2 on the PNAC gameboard; all reporters banished.

Almost forgot to mention: Bush trailing in every poll.

Smells like a glorious victory in the offing, hmmm?

UPDATE: Juan Cole has a long and rapidly growing list of Shiite clerics who are openly turning on the Americans and the Allawi governnment:
Grand Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, based in Qom, has issued a fatwa or ruling that no Iraqi Muslim may fight another Muslim on behalf of the current regime in Iraq and its American backers. Al-Haeri is sometimes called the "fifth" grand ayatollah of Najaf, the other four being more politically quietist . . . .

But even the more mainstream clerics, such as Ayatollah Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, have turned against the Americans over their hamfisted assault on the holy city of Najaf.

Bahr al-Ulum, who should know, says that the Allawi government and its American backers have lost political control of everything south of Najaf.

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