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15 August 2004 MER is Free
News, Views, & Analysis Governments, Lobbies, & the
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Mid-East Realities - MER - www.MiddleEast.Org - 15 August 2004: This is what police-states do; this is what dictators do; this is what the Israelis sometimes do; and now this is what the American 'democracy' does in the extraordinarily duplicitous name of 'freedom and democracy for Iraq.

Now it becomes more undebateably clear what the Americans always had in mind all along when they orchestrated the transformation of their 'Governing Council' into the 'interim Government'; pushed unsuccessfully for more troops from NATO and Muslim countries; and then last week orchestrated the departure of Ayatollah Sistani to London and threw Aljazeera out of Iraq.

The American assault on Najaf is a tremendous risk for the Americans -- a country that uses brute power and overwhelming military force to get its way when its various other means of covert actions, sanctions, bribery, and massive propaganda fail. The historical ramifications of these actions are sure to be substantial in the months and years ahead.

Iraq Evicts Reporters From Najaf

Sunday August 15, 2004 6:01 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi police ordered all journalists to leave the holy city of Najaf on Sunday, just as a new U.S. offensive against militants hiding out in a revered shrine there began.

Four police cars surrounded a hotel in the city where journalists were staying and presented the order signed by Najaf's police chief, Brig. Ghalib al-Jazaari.

Though the order did not spell out a punishment for those who did not comply, the police who delivered it said any reporters remaining would be arrested, according to journalists at the hotel. The police said any cameras and cellular phones they saw would be confiscated. In response to the threat, many journalists left the city.

The order would mean that the only news coverage of the ongoing violence in Najaf, one of the most revered cities to Shiite Muslims, would be provided by reporters embedded with the U.S. military.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

The order also said that all cars coming into the city would be searched and all protesters must leave the city.

Earlier Sunday, police had advised reporters to leave Najaf, saying there was rumor of a potential car bombing targeting journalists. When most reporters stayed, the police returned with the order to leave.

Concerns about the interim government's commitment to freedom of the press were sparked Aug. 7 when officials order the Baghdad office of the pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera closed.

A constitution endorsed by the members of Iraq's now disbanded Governing Council in March includes protections for freedom of speech.

The cleric at first welcomed the US but now sees it as an enemy

Najaf assault turns allies against US

Former US ally and president of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, has lost faith in the US-led occupation.

When the US wanted a Shia cleric to strengthen the credibility of the IGC, it turned to Bahr al-Ulum, whose family had lost many members for opposing Saddam Hussein.

But watching his hometown of Najaf come under US bombardment to crush Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters, Bahr al-Ulum has lost faith in US intentions towards Iraq, and says millions of moderates like him, who welcomed last year's invasion, now regard Washington as an enemy.

"The Americans have turned the holy city into a ghost town. They are now seen as full of hatred against Najaf and the Shia. Nothing I know of will change this," the former president of the now defunct council said on Friday.

"I do not understand why America craves crisis. A peaceful solution to the confrontation with Muqtada could have been reached. We were hoping that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi would lead the way, but he sided with oppression."

Bahr al-Ulum has been one of the most outspoken critics of violence fuelled by al-Sadr and his supporters, who have challenged the authority of elder clerics such as Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Bahr al-Ulum himself.

Bahr al-Ulum says al-Sadr (R)
should have been given a voice

Clerics criticised

The established clerical class has come under mounting criticism from ordinary Shia for remaining silent over the US offensive, especially al-Sistani, who expressed sorrow at the events in Najaf, but did not condemn the US offensive.

Al-Sistani travelled to London as US forces launched their offensive on Najaf last week, to seek treatment for a heart condition. His aides say the problem is not life-threatening.

Al-Sadr's supporters see Iranian-born and Iranian passport holder al-Sistani as a foreign cleric who staffed the Najaf seminaries with his followers at the expense of Iraqi nationalist clerics.

Traditional objection

Al-Sadr's father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, challenged al-Sistani's authority as well as that of Saddam. He was killed in 1999. Iranians and Iraqis exchanged accusations blaming each other for the killing.

Bahr al-Ulum, who acknowledges al-Sistani as the supreme living Shia religious figure, suggested that he would have condemned the US offensive if he had full knowledge of it.

"Sayyid (Shia title) al-Sistani is ill. I do not think he has knowledge of the destruction being wreaked in Najaf. He might have a vague idea of clashes, but not killings and oppression," he said.

It remains to be seen whether the US offensive on Najaf will undermine al-Sistani in the long term, and how much influence he will retain among Iraq's Shia.

Plight of the poor

Like his father, al-Sadr made the theme of dispossession a basis for his political platform and raised the plight of the poor, saying living conditions have not improved since the US toppled Saddam.

Although the young al-Sadr lacked political maturity, dealing with him through force only bolstered his support especially among the poor and unemployed, Bahr al-Ulum said.

"The government has lost the support of the Middle Euphrates region and the south, even if it manages to calm down these areas temporarily using brute force," he said, referring to clashes in central and southern Iraq.

He said al-Sadr should have been given a political voice in government to avert violent confrontation. "There is no wisdom to what the Americans and Allawi are doing," he said.

"The consequences are unthinkable."

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Source: http://www.middleeast.org/articles/2004/8/1062.htm