by Peyman Pejman
(IPS) -- Iraqi groups opposed to the U.S.-led occupation of their country have regained full or partial control of four Iraqi cities and are resorting to the kidnapping of foreigners, a scenario that spells more violence ahead as the country marked on Friday the first anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.
The violence has highlighted two questions that have often bubbled to the surface in the past year: Who are the resistance fighters and what does their determination say for the future of Iraq, not to mention rising casualties among some 120,000 troops from the United States and dozens of other countries?
In the past week alone, the occupying forces have been fighting two different, with perhaps equally lethal, forces in two different parts of Iraq.
The battles have cost the lives of at least 500 Iraqis and about 50 soldiers from the United States and other countries participating in the military operations in Iraq. Hundreds more Iraqis and occupying soldiers have been wounded.
The violence has been concentrated in geographically opposite sides of Iraq. In the north of the country, U.S. forces have surrounded the city of Falluja for the past five days.
The operation started after unknown assailants attacked a convoy that included four U.S. civilian contractors. After setting their cars on fire, the attackers threw the contractors' bodies on the ground, dragged them along the pavement and then cut the flesh into pieces.
A flurry of condemnation arose from various sources, including the White House and the U.S. Department of State. U.S. officials in Baghdad promised revenge and said they would flush out the radicals in the area fighting the occupying forces. In the south, thousands of mostly young, impoverished and angry supporters of the radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr have engaged the occupation forces.
The incidents first started when U.S. officials in Baghdad ordered the closure of Sadr's weekly newspaper Al Hawza on charges that it published articles that incited the public to attack U.S. soldiers.
After days of often-violent demonstrations in various parts of Baghdad and cities to the south, U.S. officials in Baghdad publicised a months-old arrest warrant for Sadr on charges of complicity in last year's murder of a rival Shiite leader, Abdel Majid Khoei.
The news of the possible arrest led to a deterioration in the situation, and armed clashes in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala resulted in many casualties. Meanwhile, Sadr took refuge in a mosque in the nearby city of Kufa and hundreds of his armed supporters took over police and government buildings there and vowed to defend themselves and their leader to death. They also took control of Kut to the north of Najaf.
Unknown groups suspected to have ties to Sadr kidnapped a dozen Japanese, South Korean, Canadian, and Arab Israelis. The seven South Koreans have since been released. A British citizen is missing but it is not clear if he has been kidnapped.
Iraqi politicians, even those opposed to Sadr, have criticised U.S. officials for publicising the arrest warrant.
"Even if there is any relation between the murder of Khoei and even if it is a case than can stand in a court of law, declaring it at this time when everything is tense was very harmful and ill-advised," says Hamed Bayati, a senior advisor to another prominent Shiite leader and member of the U.S.-appointed governing council, Abdel Aziz Hakim.
If Iraqi politicians are criticising the U.S. move on Sadr, U.S. politicians in Washington, too, are casting doubts on the heavy-handed tactics of the U.S. military in Falluja and nearby areas.
"I am terribly worried that military tactics in Iraq are going to do a number of things and they are all bad. I think we will end up with civil war (in Iraq) if we continue down the military operations strategy that we have," former U.S. Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey told a independent commission in Washington investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Kerry, while in Congress, had voted in favour of launching the Iraq war.
Kerrey said the U.S. military's tactics in Iraq will only increase attacks on the United States by groups such as al-Qaeda and help them recruit more members. The recent turmoil in Iraq has already caused political damage for U.S. rule in Iraq. Two interim ministers resigned from their posts Thursday, one voluntarily and the other forced to resign.
Interim interior minister Nouri Badran said U.S. Civil Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer had demanded his resignation because Iraqi police and civil defence forces had done a poor job of keeping law and order, whether preventing attacks on contractors in Falluja or ensuring that cities in the south did not fall to Sadr's forces.
Abdel Basset Turki, in charge of the newly established human rights ministry, resigned saying the U.S. forces in Iraq were violating the human rights of the Iraqis, not protecting them.
Some other, although politically less significant, religious and civil leaders have called for the U.S.-appointed interim governing council to resign.
Some observers have expressed concern that one year's efforts to establish a democratic and fully functioning civil society in Iraq have been the real victim of last week's bloodshed.
"We have been working with various Iraqis, various Iraq groups, to rebuild institutions in this country, to teach them how to work with each other, how to work with us, how to take pride in the unity of one Iraq, and now all seems to have gone," said one U.S. official in Baghdad who asked his name not be mentioned.
Many Iraqis and foreign observers also worry that the increased attacks on Falluja and Sadr's supporters have changed the nature of opposition to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
"This is not about Moqtada Sadr anymore," Karim Abdel Jaafar, a demonstrator in Baghdad's Sunni-dominated Adhamiyeh told Arabic television channels earlier this week.
He and thousands of other Sunni Muslims were demonstrating in support of the Shiite leader in Najaf. "This is now a movement that includes the Shiites and the Sunnis. We will kill the Americans wherever we can until they leave the country," he said.
Also, for the first time since the fall of Saddam's regime one year ago, Sunni and Shiite leaders held a joint Friday prayer session in Baghdad.
Hareth Suleiman al-Zari called on all Iraqis to boycott any food and medical aid given by coalition forces. He also said any salary earned from U.S. and British forces is forbidden. That could affect tens of thousands of Iraqis who have started working in new Iraqi offices and institutions, and are getting paid by the occupying forces.
Many Iraqi translators working for U.S. forces or foreign journalists in Iraq have lately been targeted, some intimated and some killed. It is not clear whether Friday's order would exacerbate attacks on them.
U.S. officials, whether in Baghdad or Washington, have denied reports that the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq is uniting "foreign terrorists" and supporters of the foreign regime on one hand and average discontented Iraqis on the other. This potentially plants the seeds of a popular uprising.
"Let's see what this is not," says Gen Mark Kimmit, military spokesman in Baghdad. "This is not a general uprising. We are fighting two separate groups," he said.
"That maybe true today," says a senior advisor to a governing council member. "But it may not be true tomorrow."
April 9, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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