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Protestor deaths leave Iraq in chaos
(Mitchell Prothero, UPI, April 4, 2004)
A demonstration in the southern city of Najaf turned deadly as Salvadoran soldiers -- under Spanish command -- exchanged fire with supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the city of Najaf. Reports from the scene indicate that at least 19 protesters and 4 coalition troops were killed. . . . The violent clash has left much of the Shiite sections of Iraq in near chaos. . . . This represents the most serious clashes between coalition forces and the Shiite population. Previous large scale fighting has usually occurred between coalition forces and Sunni population, from which more militant members and former Baath Party members had led a year long resistance to the U.S.-led presence. . . . But the Shiites -- which had suffered terrible oppression under Saddam's rule -- have been reluctant to resort to violence, preferring demonstrations and political maneuvering to confrontation. . . . If full scale fighting breaks out, which Sunday night it appeared as very possible -- between U.S. forces and the Shiite followers of Sadr, it would represent the largest setback for the U.S. occupation of Iraq so far, as Iraq's 60 percent Shiite population, which has rarely fought the coalition -- could be forced to choose sides. That would set the stage for a bloody civil war, or more widespread opposition to the U.S.-led presence from a population that has arguably benefited the most from the U.S. invasion. . . . After the estimated 5,000 demonstrators traded gunfire with the troops in Najaf, crowds turned out in Baghdad, Kerbala, and Sadr's home village of Kufa to "declare war on the American occupation," said one supporter. . . . The vast Shiite slum of Sadr City -- named for Moqtada's cleric father who was killed by the Baath regime in 1999 -- went into near chaos Sunday afternoon after the news of the fighting in Najaf. . . . As night fell, U.S. military vehicles, tanks and troops could be seen setting up roadblocks around the neighborhood themselves and reports of widespread fighting in the area have been reported by sources in the neighborhood. . . . One resident told UPI by phone that Sadr's militia had seized all five of Sadr City's police stations are were declaring their own form of martial law. There are also reports that U.S. infantry backed by helicopters and tanks have entered the neighborhood to reclaim the police facilities from the militia. . . . These developments come even as all of Iraq has been waiting for the U.S. response to the horrific attack and mutilation of four government security contractors in Fallujah, a Sunni city 35 miles west of Baghdad.
posted by Lorenzo 2:44 PM