A nightmare of nationwide chaos faces the occupiers
Paul McGeough in Baghdad
A nightmare of nationwide chaos faces the occupiers
Tue Apr 6, 2004 00:33

A nightmare of nationwide chaos faces the occupiers
ANALYSIS by Paul McGeough in Baghdad

Sydney Morning Herald - April 6, 2004:

The start of a violent Shiite revolt against the US occupation of Iraq has confronted Washington with the nightmare of nationwide chaos and the loss of broad community support as it prepares to return sovereignty to Iraqis.

Urged by the young firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to "terrorise your enemy", tens of thousands of Shiite protesters took to the the streets of Baghdad and critical southern cities, including Najaf, Kufa and Amara. Armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK 47s, they attacked coalition bunkers and took control of Iraqi police stations, checkpoints and other government buildings.

Twenty-four civilians died and an estimated 200 were reportedly wounded in running street battles with Spanish troops in Kufa as unrest spread.

The sudden uprising came as US officers were planning what they had promised would be an overwhelming military response to the mutilation of four US security contractors last week in the Sunni stronghold of Falluja, west of Baghdad.

Faced with a serious military challenge on two fronts - the task of dealing with the Sunnis and quelling Shiite cities from which they had long withdrawn - the Americans were confronted with another harsh reality of liberated Iraq.

As Sunday's street battles were at full pitch, occupation chief, Paul Bremer, declared that the Shiite violence would not be tolerated by Iraq's new police and civil defence services, which the Americans have insisted are capable of securing the country. But witnesses described how the fledgling services fled their posts, in some cases abandoning weapons and taking TVs and computers.

The Shiite revolt is the single worst development to face the US occupiers. Until now they have presumed that the threat came from a persistent but minority Sunni and foreign-assisted insurgency, but just over a year since the fall of Saddam Hussein they are forced to contemplate having to put down the 60-plus per cent Shiite majority on which they had reckoned for support.

The uprising seems to be payback for the US decision last week to close down a little-read newspaper published by Sadr, whose fiery anti-American rhetoric had been presumed to have little more than marginal support among Iraqis, and the subsequent arrest of one of his lieutenants in connection with the murder in the early days of the occupation of Ayatollah Sayyed Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who was airlifted from London to Iraq by the Americans in the hope that he would bend the Shiite leadership America's way.

Sadr declared in a sermon on Friday that he wanted to be the "striking arm" of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah in Iraq and organising street parades by units of his private militia, the black-uniformed Mehdi Army.

Protest rallies by his supporters have caused gridlock in Baghdad streets in the past three days. And now that the Shiite mobs have had a taste of resistance, there is a risk that the more cautious mainstream Shiite leadership will be forced to follow his lead.

A spokesman for the spiritual leader of the Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for calm. But significantly, he also told reporters that the demonstrators' cause was "legitimate" and he spoke out against "acts waged by the coalition forces."

By Sunday night US spokesmen affected an undaunted approach in the face of encircling gloom. But there was a surreal air to a press briefing by Mr Bremer at which he refused questions. As the violence escalated, he announced appointments to the new Iraqi Defence Ministry and intelligence services.

With Shiite and Sunni centres at boiling point, all the US needs now to have all religious or ethnic groups in the country on the boil is an eruption of the tension between Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen in the northern city of Kirkuk.

Anarchy across Iraq
By Colin Freeman, Evening Standard, in Baghdad

6 April, London: British soldiers killed 15 militants as Iraq descended into new levels of anarchy today.

The Iraqis died in a string of clashes with UK forces over the past 48 hours in Basra and Amarah as a Shia uprising led by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr swept through the country. More than 20 Iraqis were injured in Amarah and Basra - the main cities in the British-controlled sector of the country. Twenty-four Coalition soldiers, six of them British, were hurt, none seriously, the Ministry of Defence said.

The confrontations came as efforts to keep peace went into meltdown and America said it is planning a massive troop reinforcement. In the most widespread violence to hit Iraq since the last days of the war, Coalition troops faced clashes in almost all the main cities.

# In Nasariyah, 15 Iraqis died as they fought up to 500 Italian troops, of whom 12 were wounded. Militants loyal to al-Sadr seized key bridges across the Euphrates.

# Spanish troops clashed with militants in the holy city of Najaf and came under mortar fire near Diwaniyah.

# A massive firefight was reported as US forces sealed off Fallujah, seen as the centre of Sunni resistance to the occupation, where four US contractors were killed and mutilated last week. In and around the town at least four US Marines were reported dead.

# Three US soldiers died in clashes with al-Sadr supporters in the north of Baghdad, the day after Apache helicopter gunships were called in to attack rioters.

# A Ukrainian soldier is also reported to have been killed and six injured.

The Iraqi death toll in two days of violence is thought to be at least 70 and could be much higher. It leaves the American-led administration facing the prospect of cancelling the planned handover of power to Iraqis at the end of June, which would be a bitter personal blow to President Bush and his administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

The Amarah protests descended into bloody battles between demonstrators and police, and are thought to have involved the Shia leader's most loyal supporters, the so-called Madi Army.

Al-Sadr has called on his followers to bring "terror" to the Coalition occupation in a radical break with the wider majority Shia community, which was repressed under Saddam and has been broadly supportive of the Americanled invasion.

Violence in British-held territory had until now been confined to protests by the unemployed and poor spilling over into violence. But the new organised militancy means UK commanders now face the same level of violence which has dogged American commanders around Baghdad.

Fresh British troops are due to arrive in Basra later this month as part of a planned rotation which will maintain the 11,000-strong UK force at its current levels.

12 Marines, 66 Iraqis Killed in Battles

NAJAF, Iraq (AP - 6 April) - Insurgents and rebellious Shiites mounted a string of attacks across Iraq's south and U.S. Marines launched a major assault on the turbulent city of Fallujah on Tuesday. Up to a dozen Marines, two more coalition soldiers and at least 66 Iraqis were reported killed.

Reports from the city of Ramadi, near Fallujah, said dozens of Iraqis attacked a Marine position near the governor's palace, a senior defense official said from Washington. ``A significant number'' of Marines were killed, and initial reports indicate it may be up to a dozen, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. authorities also launched a crackdown on radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr al-Sadr and his militia after a series of weekend uprisings in Baghdad and cities and towns to the south that took a heavy toll in both American and Iraqi lives. The fighting marks the first major outbreak of violence between the U.S.-led occupation force and the Shiites since Baghdad fell a year ago.

Two more coalition soldiers - an American in Baghdad and a Ukrainian in Kut - were killed in fighting. The deaths brought the three-day total to up to about 30 Americans and 136 Iraqis killed in the worst fighting since the war that toppled Saddam Hussein.
In the Ramadi fighting, heavy casualties were inflicted on the insurgents as well, officials said. It was not immediately known who the attackers were, nor whether the attack was related to fighting under way in nearby Fallujah.

On the Fallujah front, Marines drove into the center of the Sunni city in heavy fighting before pulling back before nightfall. The assault had been promised after the brutal killings and mutilations of four American civilians there last week. Hospital officials said eight Iraqis died Tuesday and 20 were wounded, including women and children.

U.S. warplanes firing rockets destroyed four houses in Fallujah after nightfall Tuesday, witnesses said. A doctor said 26 Iraqis, including women and children, were killed and 30 wounded in the strike. The deaths brought to 34 the number of Iraqis killed in Fallujah on Tuesday, including eight who died in street battles earlier in the day.

The dusty, Euphrates River city 35 miles west of Baghdad is a stronghold of the anti-U.S. insurgency that sprang up shortly after Saddam's ouster a year ago.

With fighting intensifying ahead of the June 30 handover of power to an Iraqi government, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said American commanders in Iraq would get additional troops if needed. None has asked so far, he said.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said al-Sadr and his followers were not representative of a religious cause but of ``political gangsterism.''

The 30-year-old al-Sadr, however, does not have a large following among majority Shiites - many see him as a renegade, too young and too headstrong to lead wisely.

``They're not acting in the name of religion, they're acting in the name of arrogating for themselves political power and influence through violence, because they can't get it through peaceful persuasion,'' he said.

Five Marines were killed Monday - one in Fallujah and the others on the western outskirts of Baghdad. A U.S. soldier was killed in Baghdad Tuesday, a day after two more were killed there. On Sunday, two soldiers were killed in Kirkuk and Mosul. Excluding the report out of Ramadi on Tuesday evening, at least 614 American troops have died in Iraq since the war began.

Marines waged a fierce battle for hours Tuesday with gunmen holed up in a residential neighborhood of Fallujah. The military used a deadly AC-130 gunship to lay down a barrage of fire against guerrillas, and commanders said Marines were holding an area several blocks deep inside the city. At least two Marines were wounded.

The crackdown on al-Sadr, who has drawn backing from young and impoverished Shiites with rousing sermons demanding a U.S. withdrawal, sent his black-garbed militiamen against coalition troops Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Fighting in the southern cities of Nasiriyah, Kut, Karbala and Amarah and in a northern Baghdad neighborhood killed 30 Iraqis, coalition military officials said. Tuesday evening, gunfire was heard in another part of Baghdad, Sadr City, where fierce battles occurred Sunday, residents said.

Fearing a U.S. move to arrest him, al-Sadr on Tuesday left a fortress-like mosque in the city of Kufa, south of Baghdad, where he had been holed up for days, his aides said.

Al-Sadr issued a statement saying he was ready to die to oust the Americans. He urged his followers to resist foreign forces.

``America has shown its evil intentions, and the proud Iraqi people cannot accept it. They must defend their rights by any means they see fit,'' the al-Sadr statement said.

``I'm prepared to have my own blood shed for what is holy to me,'' he said.

Al-Sadr moved to his main office in Najaf, in an alley near the city's holiest shrine, according to a top aide, Sheik Qays al-Khaz'ali. Hundreds of militiamen were protecting the office Tuesday, but there was no independent confirmation al-Sadr was there.

Perhaps more worrisome than the current fight with al-Sadr's forces is the possibility that he will start drawing support from more mainstream Shiite leaders who have largely supported the Americans until now.

The U.S.-led coalition announced a murder warrant against al-Sadr on Monday and suggested it would move to capture him soon. U.S. officials would not explain why they were only releasing word of the warrant Monday. They said an unnamed Iraqi judge had issued it in the past months.

Still, the heavy battles over the past three days showed that even with limited backing, al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army militia is capable of a damaging fight.

The militiamen clashed with coalition troops Sunday in Baghdad and outside Najaf in fierce fighting that killed 61 people, including eight American soldiers.

In Nasiriyah on Tuesday, 15 Iraqis were killed and 35 wounded in clashes between militiamen and Italian troops, coalition spokeswoman Paola Della Casa told an Italian news agency Apcom. Eleven Italians troops were slightly wounded.

Della Casa said the Iraqi attackers used civilians as human shields, and a woman and two children were among the dead.

Fighting overnight in Amarah between al-Sadr's followers and British troops killed 15 Iraqis and wounded eight, said coalition spokesman Wun Hornbyckle.

In Kut, militiamen attacked an armored personnel carrier carrying Ukrainian soldiers, killing one and wounding five, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said. Two militiamen were killed in the fight. Ukraine has about 1,650 troops in Iraq.

U.S. Marines encircled Fallujah early Monday, and on Tuesday, they penetrated several central neighborhoods for the first time. Mortar and rocket-propelled grenade blasts were heard, and one witness said a Humvee was ablaze.
Heavy fighting also occurred between Marines entrenched in the desert and guerrillas firing from houses on Fallujah's northeast outskirts. For hours into the night, the sides traded fire, while teams of Marines moved in and out of the neighborhood, seizing buildings to use as posts and battling gunmen. Helicopters weaved overhead, firing at guerrilla hide-outs.

``We are several blocks deep in the city of Fallujah,'' Marine Maj. Briandon McGolwan said. He said several helicopters were hit by small arms fire, but none were downed. He said Marines had detained 14 people since Monday.

L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, conceded not all was going smoothly as the coalition approached the June 30 handover, a date he said was inviolable.

``We have problems, there's no hiding that. But basically Iraq is on track to realize the kind of Iraq that Iraqis want and Americans want, which is a democratic Iraq,'' he said on ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

Associated Press reporters Bassem Mroue and Lourdes Navarro contributed to this report from Fallujah.
Blackwater Lodge
Author's Note: This story was written for SOF Magazine (on their nickel). They failed to publish it because of pressure from other facilities of this type.


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