“We will die for you, O Sadr”
“To the press, Husseini vowed to step up the jihad ‘to the last drop of blood,’ even though ‘we are a peaceful group.'” Mmm-hmm. From the Jerusalem Post:
Palestinian fedayeen fighters have joined the ranks of the rebel Mahdi Army militia in recent days, militia leaders here told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.
The coalition forces accuse firebrand Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army of stirring up a rebellion in a swath of predominately Shi’ite cities in the center and south of the country that led to more than 100 Iraqi and 20 coalition forces’ deaths.
Some 25 Palestinian fighters volunteered as suicide bombers against American troops, Sa’id Amr al-Husseini, one of Sadr’s leading lieutenants said Wednesday at the headquarters of the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, Baghdad’s largest Shi’ite neighborhood.
“Yesterday the Palestinians came to these headquarters and expressed their desire to be martyrs, ready for sacrifice at the order of the Hawza,” Husseini said.
The Hawza is Iraq’s leading Shi’ite clerical order, believed to wield immense power among Shi’ites.
The Mahdi Army’s claim could not be independently confirmed, though Sunni leaders are increasingly willing to share in the “glory of jihad with the Shi’ites,” said Abd Satar Jabani, imam of Baghdad’s largest Wahhabi mosque on Tuesday.
In the complex tangle of Iraqi politics, Saddam Hussein’s abuse of the Shi’ite majority and his championing of the Palestinians made natural enemies of the two groups.
But Husseini, using the catchword of “united jihad,” said the war against the American occupiers has brought Iraqis, Sunni and Shi’ite, “together for martyrdom.”
Sheikhs, tribal leaders, even businessmen have crowded into his cramped office since the start of the Shi’ite insurrection to offer, money, guns, and food to the outlawed militia, he said.
At the militia’s stronghold in Sadr City, black clad militiamen strut in and out, antique knives tucked into their trousers, pistols stuffed into belt loops.
Husseini blamed the the bloodshed on the coalition forces. But internal pressure for a cease-fire among Shi’ites is mounting, even as clashes resumed Wednesday night.
Shi’ite clerics, tribal sheikhs, and even Governing Council members are sending countless missives to Sadr in an effort to broker a cease-fire that would end the bloodshed.
Sadr, holed up in Najaf, has balked. He will not fight, he said in a statement Wednesday. His fate will be “either assassination and martyrdom or arrest.” Sadr’s brinkmanship and the coalition’s determination to rid Iraq of the Mahdi Army s semi-organized confederations of outlaw fighters has disrupted what had been cordial US-Shi’ite relations.
In Sadr City, US tanks parked outside the main police headquarters, engines running. When I visited Iraq just after the war last April, dozens of children would hang out beside G.I.s, leaning on their shoulders, prattling jovially in a language the soldiers never understood.
Instead of jokes, the youths, once affectionately dubbed “seagulls” by troops for their habit of flocking around soldiers, now yell catcalls. Now tank turrets swing back and forth at those approaching the troops, who rarely step out from their steel protection. Soldiers refused to talk. “Get out of here, it’s too dangerous,” screamed one from a tank.
“We’ve reached a moment of truth,” a US official told The Washington Post. “We have to get [Fallujah and the new Shi’ite uprising] right or there are serious questions about whether this political transition can go forward.”
While fighting raged in Fallujah and Ramadi, there were signs the Shi’ite uprising might be close to burning itself out. A new poster crowned the Mahdi Army fort here — a portrait of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
It was a gesture aimed both at paying lip service to moderate Shi’ite leaders and recruiting of a broader segment of Shi’ite for Sadr’s swelling army.
After four straight days of bloody battles in which an estimated 150 Shi’ites and about a dozen coalition troops lost their lives, Husseini’s office hummed with activity. He handed out $100 bills to followers out of a bulky black plastic bag. Simultaneously, he dealt with a delegation of three Shi’ite tribal leaders urging calm.
Scanning a fax, he begrudgingly acquiesced to their demands: that the Mahdi Army cease fire and allow police to return to their stations. In exchange, US tanks, guns pointed at Husseini’s office 400 meters away, would leave, and no harm would come to Sadr.
Sadr is wanted by the coalition forces both for links to the murder of another Shi’ite cleric last April and for fomenting the current uprising.
To the press, Husseini vowed to step up the jihad “to the last drop of blood,” even though “we are a peaceful group.”
“The quiet you see now, during the day, is misleading. The Americans come at night, with tanks, and that is when the fighting takes place,” he said. He made no mention of concessions, no reference to compromise.
Not that they have much choice. Coalition forces here have essentially given up negotiating with Sadr, essentially declaring war. For his part Sadr refused to back down, too proud to lose face among his people. But sources in the Governing Council said late Wednesday that they are working on a plan to end the Shi’ite impasse.
Shiekh Abdel Karim al-Mahameidi, a Governing Council member from the marshlands in the south, said his group would send a delegation to Sadr’s base in Najaf on Thursday to stop the bloodshed.
Just steps away from the Mahdi Army fort Wednesday afternoon, two old men leaned against a bullet-pocked wall. They were watching youths at the little compound’s gates chant: “We will die for you, O Sadr.”
“Really,” said Kaddum Abdullah, who said he was 50, but looked 80. “We are tired from Saddam. The US came here to free us, so that is what we want them to do; enough of this fighting.”
A boy distributing posters of a scowling Sadr walked up and offered the men one. A reporter gladly took one and stuffed it into his bag. The old men politely declined. “No thank you,” said the second man, “we see enough of him already.”