Thursday, August 12, 2004

The News from Iraq and Thoughts on Najaf

The obvious story of the day in Iraq is the developments in Najaf, with the U.S. increasing the pressure on the thorn-in-the-side-of-the-day of the new Iraqi government, the fuzzy-faced Muqtada al-Sadr.
Thousands of U.S. troops sealed off Najaf's vast cemetery, its old city and a revered Shiite shrine Thursday and unleashed a tank, infantry and helicopter assault against militants loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. They also stormed the radical cleric's home, but he was not there.

As billows of black smoke drifted across Najaf amid the clatter of military helicopters, gunmen in a house near the shrine shot at U.S. forces patrolling the 5-square-mile cemetery. Militants hiding in the cemetery took fire from the Apaches and from American soldiers crawling on the roofs of single-story buildings. When the gunships turned away, the insurgents in the graveyard shot back.

As the day began, the military trumpeted the operation as the beginning of a major assault on al-Sadr's fighters.

"Major operations to destroy the militia have begun," said Maj. David Holahan, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

Later Thursday, a spokesman for the top Marine command in Iraq (news - web sites), Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson, said that although there was some fighting and some Najaf residents have fled the city, the combat has been "sporadic and there have been no major engagements" with the militiamen.
The story goes on to ominously mention the dangers inherent in fighting near the holy Shiite mosque and the protests and violence elsewhere in the country resulting from the Iraqi/American push. The interim government and the U.S. have tried to counter this with a modicum of restraint.
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials were at pains to assure the public that U.S. troops were not in the shrine compound and only Iraqi forces would enter the shrine if it became necessary.

Damage to the building or a U.S. military presence there would set off an outcry across the country and much of the Muslim world.

The government blamed the al-Sadr's followers for the violence.

"This is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people, targeting all of Iraq," Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib said during a briefing Thursday. "Who will benefit from this? Who will benefit from targeting these holy places?"
I wasn't a blogger at the time, but I posted a few months back on an internet discussion forum that the primary difference between the Iraqi occupation and the post-WWII occupations of Japan and Germany was that the people of the former Axis countries absolutely knew that they had been defeated. So much of the Iraq takeover had been intended to diminish the hardship on the populace and wrap things up in a speedy manner that I don't think this feeling of defeat was ever sent to the Iraqi people and the Arab world. We shredded a military and the world barely knew it.

Looking back, the threatened Shock-and-Awe campaign, which was never actually unleashed, possibly should've been. The Arab world and Joe Iraqi needed to know the might and ruthlessness of the U.S. in the war against terror. We allowed the possible importance of an al-Sadr by not showing the willingness to destroy. Now, that card is off the table. We have established an interim government that we cannot undermine. To do so, unless absolutely needed, would be reckless beyond comprehension.

So what does this mean in Najaf today? We are within a mile or two of the shrine, apparently on all sides. Surprisingly, my vote is for restraint. Me, the fan of carpet bombing. Yes, restraint but, more accurately, siege. Cordon off the small area. No one enters. No one leaves alive or not in custody or not in a body bag. Snipe them all, if needed. No food, water or media allowed in until al-Sadr surrenders or dies. There is no glory to an Islamic militia that slowly slips into captivity.

We set this up by playing with kid's gloves, and now it's better we follow it through that way. A desperate, hungry (seriously, he could use the under-siege diet) al-Sadr looking patheticly meek would be the best result of this.

In other equally important Iraq news, the Iraqi government will convene Sunday to determine the interim national assembly.
The conference, considered a crucial step in the country's move toward democracy, was to have been held in late July, but was delayed to allow more time for preparations — a postponement encouraged by the United Nations.

Some areas of the country complained last month that they hadn't been given enough time to agree on delegates, and officials expressed worries the gathering would be a target for terror attacks. The postponement was announced the day after a car bombing killed 70 people in Baqouba, underscoring the continuing wave of violence across the country.

In addition, key political groups had threatened to boycott the conference. U.N. officials wanted more time in hopes of persuading those factions to attend, but it wasn't immediately clear Thursday if they had changed any minds.

"We invite everyone to take part in the political process," Dawoud told reporters.

The conference, made up of 1,000 delegates from Iraq's 18 provinces as well as tribal, religious and political leaders, is intended to help choose a 100-member national assembly that will counterbalance the interim government.

The assembly will have the power to approve the national budget, veto executive orders with a two-thirds majority and appoint replacements to the Cabinet in the event a minister dies or resigns.
This is key in bringing the new government one step closer to the Iraqi people. The closer the interim government is to the populace, the more they are intertwined in determining a democratic future for the nation. While not getting the attention that al-Sadr's latest cat-and-should-be-already-dead-mouse game is drawing, this could have a greater effect in the long term hopes of bringing democratic stability to the region.


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