IslamOnline.net & News Agencies – 2004-04-04 17:48:56
AN-NAJAF, Iraq, (April 4, 2004) — At least 20 Iraqi Shiites were killed and a hundred others wounded Sunday, April 4, when occupation troops opened fire randomly at thousands of supporters of Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr in this southern holy city in the most dangerous confrontation between the occupation and Iraq’s majority community.
The Spanish-led occupation troops fired at the marchers, who were peacefully protesting the crushing of two fellowmen by a U.S. tank on Saturday, April 3, the arrest of Sadr’s top assistant sheikh Mostafa Al-Yaqoubi and the ban on Al-Houza newspaper, the mouthpiece of Sadr, Aljazeera satellite channel reported.
The correspondent of the Doha-based newscaster said the occupation’s attack was so fierce that he compared what he saw to the 1982 Israeli atrocities in two Beirut-area refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.
The correspondent saw dozens lying wounded on the ground, including Shiite scholars, amid the sound of explosions and gunfire on the main highway out of the holy city.
Ambulances rushed to the scene and the shooting lasted for more than an hour as U.S. helicopters and jets flew overhead.
Following the incident, Sadr declared jihad against the occupation and instructed his supporters to carry weapons, Aljazeera said.
This is the first time that Sadr calls for armed resistance as he has always been an advocate of positive peaceful resistance. His militia, Al-Mahdi Army, stormed all police stations in the southern holy city of Kufa and placed them under their control, it added.
‘Why Did They Fire On Us?’
Mahdi Militiaman khaled Mohammed accused Iraqi troops of opening fire on the demonstrators. “Why did they fire on us? Iraqi soldiers began firing on the demonstrators, then Spanish soldiers followed,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Iraqi television called on An-Najaf residents to donate blood.
Accounts varied on how the fighting started. An AFP correspondent said the clashes began when demonstrators hurled rocks at a convoy of six vehicles from the occupation’s Spanish-led Plus Ultra Brigade and started shouting at them: “No, No to America. No, No to Israel .”
In central Baghdad , Aljazeera said Iraqi policemen opened fire at the demonstrators trying to storm a police station in Al-Sadoun street , injuring at least two people. Earlier, thousands of Sadr’s supporters blocked the entrance to the occupation headquarters in Baghdad .
Beating their chests, the angry crowd denounced US President George W. Bush and waved swords outside the heavily fortified city-center administrative compound. “Down, down Bush. Down, down America. Down, down Israel,” chanted the protestors, AFP reported.
The crowd allowed just one vehicle out of the complex and it was carrying a Muslim scholar. Several U.S. soldiers looked on from behind the cement barricades and razor wire that mark the perimeter.
Two US military jeeps were forced to drive away when approached by angry demonstrators, chanting “Yes to Islam, No to America, No to Saddam”.
The loudspeakers of Shiite mosques loyal to the anti-occupation firebrand Sadr had called Sunday morning for his followers to observe a strike.
“Loyal people of Iraq , in protest at the detention of scholars by the occupation forces, the decision has been taken to call a general strike at all government institutions and schools, so we call on you to answer this call,” the loudspeakers blared. “Mahdi Army members should immediately head to the Mohsen Al-Hakim Mosque in Sadr City,” they added, referring to a mainly Shiite Baghdad suburb.
US Troops Surround Sadr’s Mosque
The protestors carried two coffins, draped in an Iraqi flag, of the Iraqis they said were crushed by a US tank late Saturday as protestors tried to march on the occupation headquarters.
US forces has earlier surrounded Sadr’s offices at Al-Rahman mosque in Baghdad ‘s Mansur district and only pulled back some of its Bradley armored vehicles and Humvees after negotiating with Shiite scholars at the compound.
The scion of an illustrious religious family, Sadr has clashed several times with US forces since last summer but has intensified his verbal barrage against the US-led occupation since it closed his weekly newspaper Al-Hawza on March 28.
The bloody incidents came ahead of Monday’s expected arrival in Iraq of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi who is charged with helping to resolve an impasse between the occupation and the Shiites over the nation’s political future.
Earlier in the day, two US Marines were killed in fresh attacks in the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar .
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)