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24 August 2004 --- MER is Free
News, Views, & Analysis Governments, Lobbies, & the
Corporate Media Don't Want You To Know
"We Will Wipe Them Out" Allawi Regime Declares


CRUSADES II
Battle of Najaf Reaching Climax
U.S. brings in new Iraqi mercenary forces
Fallujah, Sadr City, Najaf Also Under Bombing and Tank Attack

Mid-East Realities - MER - www.MiddleEast.Org - 24 August 2004:

In Iraq, in the Middle East, and throughout the Arab and Muslims worlds the early years of the 21st century may become known as the start of Crusades II.

Today, just as a top American General admits it may take 10 years to bring Iraq under control (see breaking headlines at MiddleEast.Org), the Americans are pulverizing Iraqi cities including Fallujah, Sadr City, and Najaf with high-tech tanks and gunships while bringing in their new mercenary Iraqi forces to Najaf to take the Imam Ali Shrine from resisting Shia forces.

It was just five days after 9/11 that the evangelical American President made his public comments about the new 'crusade' in the Middle East. His advisers quickly shut him up and hastily arranged a little visit up the street to the Washington Mosque. But as they say the cat was already out of the bag.

Bush's views and ongoing rhetoric -- and then came top Pentagon General Boykin telling the world that 'my god is bigger than their god' -- may come to define this period in 'modern' history.

And with Israeli policies in the region, on top of their powerful Israeli-Jewish lobby's connection with all that has happened, for many in the Arab and Muslim world's there is now a Christian-Jewish, a U.S.-Israeli, Crusades II underway against the Arab and Muslim worlds. The events of these very days are of course throwing more fuel on the fire.

The ramifications of these years will indeed be world changing; but probably not, as history turns, as the current victors contemplate. Passions and forces are being unleashed now that will be even harder to control in the years ahead. As we editorialized last week, on top of all the arrogant and racist rhetoric and attitudes, the actions of the U.S. and Israel have now set the world on fire.
MER





Iraq Forces Advance on Najaf Shrine, Battle Rages

By Michael Georgy

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters - 24 August) - Iraqi security forces moved to within 400 meters (yards) of a holy shrine in Najaf on Tuesday, just hours after the government warned Shi'ite rebels inside they would be killed if they did not surrender.

"God willing, we'll be moving in tonight," a commander of one unit told Reuters, adding that around 500 Iraqi troops had been deployed to the area around the Imam Ali mosque, the first time government forces have entered the battle zone.

The advance was carried out by 50 servicemen and came after U.S. helicopters fired missiles and strafed militia positions in a cemetery that adjoins the mosque, where most of the Mehdi Army loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have holed up during a bloody three-week rebellion in the southern city.

A U.S. soldier guided the men in. They were shot at by Mehdi militiamen and returned fire.

"We are in the last hours. This evening, Iraqi forces will reach the doors of the shrine and control it and appeal to the Mehdi Army to throw down their weapons," Defense Minister Hazim al-Shalaan said at a U.S. army base outside Najaf.

"If they do not, we will wipe them out."

With fighting raging, U.S. tanks reinforced positions along the southern flank of the mosque. Black smoke rose from the area and automatic gunfire crackled after an overnight bombardment from U.S. warplanes and artillery.

The ultimatum from the U.S.-backed interim government is the latest in a series of threats that Iraqi forces will storm the shrine to disarm the militia.

MINISTERS TARGETED

In Baghdad, insurgents tried to assassinate Iraq's environment and education ministers in separate bombings that killed five of their bodyguards and wounded more than a dozen people, officials said.

Environment Minister Mishkat Moumin said she survived a suicide car bomb attack on her convoy in Baghdad. Education Minister Sami al-Mudhaffar was unhurt after a roadside bomb hit his convoy in the city, officials said.

A group linked to al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attempt on Moumin and said it would not miss next time, according to an Internet statement.

The attacks were the latest attempts to kill officials in the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who took power from U.S.-led occupiers barely two months ago and faces crises on many fronts, especially in Najaf.

"Serving the Iraqi people is not a crime that deserves this," an outraged Moumin told Reuters after the blast.

Moumin said four of her bodyguards were killed in the suicide bombing. Up to 15 people were wounded. One of Mudhaffar's bodyguards died in the attack on his convoy.

"I opened the door to leave for work and the blast knocked me over," said Ali al-Tai, a local resident standing in front of his home only meters (yards) from the blast site where Moumin was targeted, blood from victims splattered on his shirt.

In July, Iraq's justice minister survived a suicide car bomb attack on his convoy in Baghdad. The then head of the Iraqi Governing Council, Izzedin Salim, was killed in May in a similar strike. Both of those attacks were claimed by Zarqawi.

IRAQI FORCES CLOSE IN

U.S. marines have done most of the fighting in Najaf, which has killed hundreds, driven oil prices to record highs and touched off clashes in seven other southern and central cities.

But any raid by U.S. troops on Iraq's holiest Shi'ite shrine could trigger a firestorm of protest from the country's majority Shi'ite community.

A rocket fired by militants clipped the wall of the gold-domed mosque on Tuesday and may have damaged the building, the U.S. military said. Both sides have accused each other of attacks near the shrine and of failing to respect holy ground.

Insurgents also attacked a truck and an ambulance taking aid to Najaf, killing two people and setting the vehicles on fire, a Reuters witness said. Cameraman Alaa Saad said from the scene the vehicles were attacked south of Baghdad.

But news that Iraq's crude exports were back to normal on Monday helped calm jittery oil markets. Prices reached nearly $50 a barrel last week after sabotage and threats cut exports. (Additional reporting by Chris Helgren in Najaf, Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Mussab al-Khairalla, Andrew Marshall, Tom Perry and Ibon Villelabeitia in Baghdad)



Najaf fighters issued another ultimatum

Al-Mahdi Army fighters have been given just hours to give up

Aljazeera, 24 August: Iraq's interim defence minister has warned fighters besieged in Najaf's Imam Ali shrine to surrender or face an attack later on Tuesday that would "wipe them out".

The ultimatum was the latest in a series of threats by the US-backed government to the al-Mahdi Army loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, which has been fighting American marines around the Imam Ali mosque for three weeks.

"We are in the last hours. This evening, Iraqi forces will reach the doors of the shrine and control it and appeal to the al-Mahdi Army to throw down their weapons," Defence Minister Hazim al-Shalan told a news conference at a US military base outside Najaf.

"If they do not, we will wipe them out."

A spokesman for al-Sadr's office in Baghdad, Raid al-Kathemy, said: "This is the beginning of the battle."

To the death

"They [US forces] will not enter Najaf until we are all dead," al-Kathemy told Aljazeera.

He also said "those collaborators with the US forces will be sooner or later heavily punished by the Iraqi people and al-Sadr's movement".

"We still welcome any peaceful initiative"

Raid al-Qadhimy,
al-Sadr spokesman in Baghdad

"The whole world has witnessed al-Sadr welcoming any peaceful initiative," al-Kathemy continued.

"But those crooked members of the government, who are collaborating with the US occupation forces, do not want any peace. They are slaves for the occupation forces.

Welcome peace

"However, we still welcome any peaceful initiative," Al-Kathemy added.

He stressed that al-Sadr was willing to hand over the shrine's keys to Ayat Allah al-Sistani and evacuate the al-Haidari compound.

"But those [government members] are manipulating us... They are not cooperating with us to hand over the keys, which is considered the beginning of a peaceful solution for our crisis.

"Even Saddam Hussein has not dared to attack the holy shrines," al-Kathemy added.

Escalation

Meanwhile, US tanks on Tuesday reinforced their positions along the southern flank of the shrine.

US tanks have reinforced their
positions near the shrine

Witnesses near the shrine said they saw Iraqi forces for the first time in the battle zone, after a morning of intense gunfire following fierce attacks by US warplanes overnight.

"I saw at least 10 American tanks parked on Medina street. It was impossible to get through today because snipers were everywhere," said one Iraqi witness, Fadil Shakir.

Medina street is a strategic thoroughfare with snipers on both sides. It is about 500 metres from the shrine.

A witness reported seeing Iraqi National Guard troops in two white pickup trucks appear for the first time in the battle zone. Witnesses said they saw many of them as well as some policemen around Medina street.

Militiamen accused

The US military said a rocket fired by militiamen clipped the wall of the Imam Ali shrine on Tuesday and may have damaged the building.

In a statement, the military said US aircraft spotted militiamen firing the rocket from the northeast corner of Iraq's holiest Shia shrine.

"The rocket clipped the wall of the shrine and landed approximately 10 metres north of the wall. The shrine may have sustained damage due to the rocket," it said.

Each side in the Najaf fighting has accused the other of mounting attacks near the shrine and of failing to respect holy ground.

http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/3EB322D6-588E-406B-B3C1-B80A9CB9B39D.htm




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