Sunday, August 15, 2004
Juan Cole reports that the threat of sabotage by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army has forced authorities to shut down oil facilities in Basra, at a cost to the government of $30 to 60 million a day in lost revenues. Meanwhile, thousands of Shiites are "streaming toward Najaf in hopes of forming a human shield around Muqtada al-Sadr":
[T]he Allawi government says it intends to send an Iraqi military force into the shrine of Ali after Muqtada al-Sadr and his militiamen, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat. Allawi should be careful. A colleague of mine was reminded of a similarity between the current situation and the Indian government raid on the Sikh Golden Temple in 1984. That invasion of holy space arguably led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi and prolonged civil instability in the Punjab . . . .Cole has an op-ed on Muqtada and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who is currently in London being treated for heart problems) in Sunday's Washington Post.
Muqtada and his spokesmen called for a United Nations investigation into the American attack on Najaf, and for a UN force to take control of the Shiite holy city.
Arab newspapers don't usually say so, but the other side of the story is that Muqtada's militiamen are narrow-minded, thug-like puritans who impose their power on civilians by coercion. I don't think it is a decisive datum that the people of Najaf largely despise the "Mahdi Army" and Muqtada and want them out of the city, because Muqtada's social and political base lies elsewhere. It isn't that he doesn't have one.