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In Iraq, a 'perfect storm'
(Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 2004)
A series of events has triggered the bloodiest crisis to date for US forces in postwar Iraq. . . . The US closure of an irregularly published newspaper with just 5,000 readers seemed a tiny moment in the struggle for stability in Iraq. But the March 28 move to close Al Hawza, controlled by militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, now looks like the edge of a violent storm. . . . How its twin fronts - of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents - built and combined to create what might be described as the perfect Iraqi sandstorm is only now coming into focus. At the time, no one would have forecast that the deaths of four US security contractors alone would result in a major military campaign in Fallujah. Similarly, the US coalition hardly anticipated that the closure of just one of 100-plus newspapers in Baghdad would form the genesis of a Shiite revolt in half a dozen cities around Iraq. . . . Al Hawza was closed March 28 for what US administrators deemed its tendency to incite violence. . . . It proved a miscalculation. The closure provided a pretext for Sadr to call out thousands of supporters for daily protests in Baghdad and helped him win sympathy from many previously skeptical Iraqis who felt he was being unfairly muzzled. After a close aide of Sadr's, Mustafa Yacoubi, was arrested April 2 for allegedly participating in the murder of a rival cleric, those protests started to turn ugly. Unrest grew in southern cities as well. . . . Meanwhile in Fallujah, once a bastion of support for Saddam Hussein and always an insurgent hotbed, the shocking pictures of the March 31 killing and mutilation of the four contractors led the White House to vow swift retaliation. . . . The murders of the contractors were less significant inside Iraq than the response they drew from the Marines. As the Fallujah siege began, producing scores of Iraqi casualties, Sadr's supporters saw an opportunity to take more power for themselves as general Iraqi sympathy for the insurgents rose. Fighting spread to a number of southern cities. . . . But with casualties heavy for both Sunnis and Shiites, many undoubtedly civilian, the violence forged an unlikely alliance. Both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militants expressed their mutual admiration. . . . "This character Sadr, I have a lot of sympathy for him now and respect his bravery,'' says a young man from Fallujah, now living in Baghdad, who has participated in attacks on US forces. "This isn't about Shiite or Sunni, or who will lead Iraq. Now it's a war of liberation to kick the occupiers out of Iraqi lands." . . . Dr. Dodge says the occupation should have included three times as many troops to keep order, and that there should have been a more cautious assessment of the cultural and political environment than the prevailing view before the war that most Iraqis, happy to be rid of Hussein, would remain cooperative. . . . The fighting has drawn the US into the position that all occupiers want to avoid: combat against a foe scattered among the civilian population. Counterinsurgency in that environment inevitably creates civilian casualties, and even more hostility. . . . Now in the spiraling conflict, soldiers are being forced to engage in urban combat not just in Fallujah, but in the nearby Sunni town of Ramadi, in central Baghdad, and near the Shiite shrine city of Najaf. The consequence is looking like aggressors, stirring support for the insurgents. . . . "This notion that technocrats with technocratic solutions is what Iraq needs is entirely naive,'' says Ramiz. "It completely ignores the political and cultural spheres. What was needed was real Iraqi leaders." . . . For now, Marines continue to fight pitched battles in Fallujah, and have taken control of about 25 percent of the town, according to a spokesman. The death toll of Iraqis there has risen above 150, and Iraqi aid convoys have been pouring towards the city. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez vowed US forces would "imminently" retake the southern city of Al Kut, where Mahdi army members chased out a Ukrainian force on Wednesday.

Uprising in Iraq

March 28 US-led coalition authorities close Moqtada al-Sadr's newspaper, Al Hawza.

March 31 A guerrilla ambush on two vehicles in Fallujah kills four American military contractors. Images of their mutilated bodies are shown worldwide.

April 3 The arrest of Mustafa al-Yacoubi, a close aide of Sadr and a lieutenant in Najaf, provokes demonstrations and attacks in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

April 4 Dozens of militants belonging to Sadr's Mahdi army move into the governor's office in Basra at dawn the next day. Eight American soldiers are killed in gunfights around Baghdad.

April 7 US bomb hits mosque courtyard wall killing 40 Iraqis, say Iraqi witnesses.

April 8 Shiite Muslim militias hold partial control over three southern Iraqi cities, Kut, Najaf, and Fallujah. Iraqi gunmen kidnap foreign civilians including South Koreans and Japanese.



posted by Lorenzo 1:01 PM


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