Didier François / Libération – 2004-08-13 00:00:09
(August 11, 2004) — In Najaf, we’re witnessing the failure of the transfer of sovereignty process begun in June. At the time, coalition forces confronted with the double insurrection of the Sunni in Falluja and the Shi’ites in Najaf, seemed to have decided to change their policy. They appealed to the United Nations to enlarge the base of the Interim Government Council with a view toward a national election in January 2005.
Through its special envoy in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN promised that the new transition government would be more representative, that it would integrate the parties and social forces that had been excluded from the coalition’s decision-making process. Now, we’re witnessing the opposite process. The National Conference, which was to take place last month, has been deferred at the request of Secretary General Kofi Annan, so thoroughly did the designation of delegates depart from any democratic principles. And today, the United States would like to impose their institutional solutions by force on those who reject them, such as Moqtada al-Sadr.
In the name of the necessity of strengthening the state, the Americans are pushing the transition government to attack the militias, but this strategy leads to failure. This offensive will not diminish the level of violence in the country, much the contrary. You cannot resolve a fundamental political problem by force. The main problem in Iraq remains the occupation, and when there’s an occupation, there’s resistance. The solution must be political. It is absolutely necessary to open negotiations, to enlarge the social base of the Iraqi executive, and to prepare free elections, so that Iraq may get itself a legitimate government.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi seems to believe that a firm policy could make him popular.
Allawi is an American pawn who has revealed his true face. He’s a little Saddam Hussein who attacks his opponents, reinstates the death penalty, and has a television channel’s offices closed. The United States uses him to conduct its policy and it will dump him when he’s worn out, just like it dumped Ahmed Chalabi who’s just been indicted.
Neither the police nor the army nor the Iraqi National Guard has the means to implement this confrontation. The ministers don’t even know whether they won’t be assassinated by their own chauffeurs. And the Americans are not the ones who will protect them.
Finally, the violence in Iraq is not only political. Crime has taken on disquieting proportions. Villainous kidnappings are much more frequent than political hostage-taking and dozens of lawyers, doctors, professors, and businessmen are leaving the country. Last year, there were 16 murders a month in Baghdad. Today, 782 people are killed every month, not counting those who die in attacks.
These are the questions that concern Iraqis. Moreover, the transition government is seriously divided over the choice of Prime Minister. The Shi’ites fear an inter-communal war; the Kurds don’t want any part of this affair. The problem is that the parties that make up the government have no national plan. They only defend their own partisan, ethnic, or religious interests. A civil war threatens the country, but they fight with each other to grab portfolios, positions, or ambassadorships.
“If We Were United, Iraq Would be a Second Vietnam.” ”
Didier François / Libération
The coalition’s Najaf offensive forces the Shi’ites to choose sides.
(August 12, 2004) — Coming from no one knows where, the order to stay inside goes up like a streak of gunpowder. In a few minutes, all the Avenue Djedida merchants have put down their metal curtains. Nobody really wants to say whether this sudden curfew has been imposed by the government with the idea of isolating the Mehdi Army fighters or whether the order comes from the Shi’ite militiamen in reprisal for the American troops’ blockade of their Sadr City stronghold. However, everyone fears the costs of a confrontation that seems inevitable and is already overflowing from Baghdad’s working class neighborhoods to bite into Baghdad’s more comfortable districts.
As a direct consequence of the assault launched by the coalition against the rebellious young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, entrenched with his partisans in Najaf’s mausoleums, the entire Shi’ite community finds itself forced to choose sides. This is a terrible dilemma for the shopkeepers of Bagdad-Djedida, the capital’s prosperous district that adjoins Sadr City. To help the insurgents is to risk bankruptcy. To support the occupier is to pass for a traitor. The consequences of this choice are painful in either case.
“If the Americans thought we were helping the resistance, they’d have us arrested. If the Mehdi Army believes that we collaborate, we’ll get ourselves killed. And if they fight on this avenue that leads to Sadr City, there will be collateral damage, homes destroyed, lives lost,” summarizes Mohamed Ibrahim, the owner of a hardware store. This 40 year old merchant hardly appreciates the military ardor of Moqtada al-Sadr’s faithful.
“Armed resistance cannot win against American military power; many people will be killed who would be more useful for the country’s reconstruction,” deems Mohamed Ibrahim. However, he denounces the attitude of “Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who has chosen to use force against Moqtada al-Sadr, like Saddam Hussein during Shi’ite revolt in 1991. A decision dictated by the Americans to whom he owes his position. As long as the government is supported by the occupier, however, there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s better to be patient and prepare Shi’ite unity for the coming elections. Everyone here wants the occupier to leave. We only differ about the method to use. And if we were united, the United States would experience a second Vietnam in Iraq.”
At the foot of the Al-Samaraï Mosque, Mohamed Jassem, 24-years-old, maintains a perky little bar that serves fresh fruit juices only. He urges his customers to swallow their last glass so he can close up. “In solidarity with the Sadr City and Najaf fighters” he asserts, “because we all support everyone who resists Iraq’s occupation.”
Like most of the young people in the neighborhood, Mohamed has just changed allegiance. Up until now, his only hero was the old Ayatollah Ali Sistani. However, the Iraqi Shi’ites’ highest moral authority has chosen to leave for treatment in London while American troops launch an assault on Najaf’s holy sites.
“But he’s the one who said at the beginning of this year that that was a red line the occupier must never cross. Of course, we’re simple people; we can’t judge the decisions of such a great scholar of Islamic sciences. But his silence leaves us puzzled. Moqtada is perhaps not so great a scholar as Sistani, but he’s risking death to defend Imam Ali’s mausoleum. I think that if the Americans touch one hair on his head, all the Shi’ites in Iraq will go to the streets.”
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
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