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Iraq Police Attacked Hope Of Democracy In Najaf Bloodshed

by Franz Schurmann

Battle Of Najaf Ends In Stalemate

(PNS) -- In his speech on the closing evening of the Republican National Convention, President Bush used the word "democracy" a lot, especially in regard to the Middle East. But in Iraq, U.S.-trained operatives did their best to destroy one of the great non-violent democratic expressions of the wills of thousands of people responding to a call by 75-year-old Ayatollah Sistani to prevent the destruction of the Imam Ali Shrine in the ancient city of Najaf.

When Sistani announced his return to Iraq from London, it signaled that an accord had been achieved between the Americans and the new Iraqi government on one side and the "Army of the Mahdi," Muqtada al-Sadr on the other. But hardly had the accord become public, than the worst fighting yet broke out. The old quarter of Najaf was decimated.

Both sides accused the other of having broken the accords. But Muqtada was the winner of the accords and so had no reason to violate them. Mu'an Fayyad, a close adviser to Sistani wrote on August 22 "the Companions of Muqtada al-Sadr belong to the same culture as ours; we and they are the same Najafis."

In a piece written by Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, Major General Peter Chiarelli raised the prospect of renewed fighting by saying it was necessary to prevent Al-Sadr from rebuilding his militia. But an item in the British Independent of August 27 gets us a bit closer to the question: Who gave the order to resume fighting in Najaf?"

"Hamid al-Khaffaf, the head of Ayatollah Sistani's Beirut office, said in Najaf last night that a deal had been agreed with Sadr in which supporters arriving in the city would be allowed to spend the night in the shrine but that they and the insurgents would then leave it in the morning. Earlier, about 35 demonstrators were shot dead by Iraqi police in Najaf and nearby Kufa after answering the Ayatollah's and Sadr's calls for supporters to march to the Shi'ite holy city. Some witnesses in Najaf said police fired after armed men who had joined the marchers first shot at the police, while others said they were unaware of any firing from the crowd."

The American military organized and armed the Iraqi police. The Abu Ghraib scandal, terrible as it was, was not an assault on democracy. The marches to save the Imam Ali Shrine were peaceful and of great value to the entire Shi'ite world. For a police force that was supposedly shaped along American democratic principles to have shot dead 35 marchers is a direct attack upon democracy itself.

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Albion Monitor September 7, 2004 (

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