In the wake of rebel Iraqi Shiite leader Sayed Moqtada al Sadr's refusal to collaborate with Washington's puppet Interim Government of Iraq (IGI), US occupation forces have violated their ceasefire agreement with Sadr's Madhi Army militia.
On July 23, Sadr told Shiite worshippers at the main mosque in the city of Kufa, 10 kilometres from Najaf, that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was a US puppet. Denouncing Allawi's approval of a series of US air strikes on the Iraqi-held city of Fallujah since mid June, Sadr said: "You have proven that you are just an extension of the occupation."
A week later, on July 31, US troops arrested Sheikh Mithal al Hasnawi, Sadr's representative in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala. "They rushed into his house at around 3am and arrested him and his brother without [making] any accusations", Sheikh Raed al Kadhemi, a Sadr spokesperson, told reporters.
On the evening of August 2, a gun battle broke out between US troops and Mahdi militia when the US troops departed from their normal patrol route and surrounded Sadr's home. Sheikh Mahmoud al Sudani, a spokesperson for Sadr in Baghdad, said fighting for several hours before the US troops withdrew.
After a series of fierce battles between US troops and the Mahdi fighters in Najaf in May, a truce was reached in early June under which the US occupation forces agreed not to take captive members of Sadr's organisation. In addition, according to a report by Robert Fisk in the July 22 British Independent, the US troops "must remain in their bases except for small patrol routes which they can use to reach these fortifications".
Describing driving down the main highway to Najaf, 150km south of Baghdad, Fisk wrote that for "mile after mile south of Baghdad yesterday, the story was the same: empty police posts, abandoned Iraqi army and police checkpoints and a litter of burnt-out American fuel tankers and rocket-smashed police vehicles...
"Iraqi government officials and Western diplomats tell journalists to avoid driving out of Baghdad; now I understand why. It is dangerous. But my own fearful journey far down Highway 8 — scene of the murder of at least 15 Westerners — proved that the US-appointed Iraqi government controls little of the land south of the capital...
"I was not surprised. US forces are under so many daily guerrilla attacks that they cannot move by daylight along Highway 8 or, indeed, west of Baghdad through Fallujah or Ramadi. Across Iraq, their helicopters can fly no higher than 100 metres for fear of rocket attack."
The August 4 Christian Science Monitor reported that in "recent months, the Mahdi Army has consolidated its control over Sadr City — a poor sprawl of 2.5 million people on Baghdad's northeastern edge — maintained control over large portions of Najaf, forced a US-backed government council in the southern city of Amara to resign, and rearmed in anticipation of further confrontation with the US".
"US patrols rarely venture" into Sadr City, the Monitor added, and the "local police tend to take orders from Sadr's men rather than the other way around".
While the Madhi Army is regularly described in the Western corporate media as "anti-American", its leaders deny this. "We don't hate American people, we just hate the policies of the US government, which wants to control Iraq", Sheikh Uday al Maliki, a Mahdi Army commander, explained to the Monitor.
Meanwhile, in the 450,000-strong city of Ramadi, 95km west of Baghdad, attacks against the US occupation forces are now almost continuous. On June 28, a US military spokesperson said 11 US soldiers were wounded when their military camp outside Ramadi was attacked by mortar fire and two US aircraft were forced to land after coming under small-arms fire. One pilot was wounded.
The July 26 Los Angeles Times reported from Ramadi that on July 21 "a marine convoy was attacked here with a roadside bomb and as many as 100 insurgents unleashed a barrage of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in rolling firefights that lasted for much of the day...
"The insurgents know exactly where the marines are and regard the posts as prime targets. Four marines were killed last month when their post was overrun in the early morning darkness...
"The ferocity of the fighting in Ramadi and the tenacity of the insurgents have produced a very specific view of who the enemy is here: a mostly home-grown mix of anti-US nationalists, loyalists of Saddam Hussein's former regime and a seemingly endless supply of part-time fighters — many former members of the Iraqi army — willing to pick up a rifle or grenade launcher to fire at US forces and their Iraqi allies."
From Green Left Weekly, August 11, 2004.
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