blogenlust
8.18.2004

Into the Shrine?


So it looks like we are preparing an imminent raid on the Ali Iman Mosque in Najaf. The bold lead right under the headline of the CNN story says that "Iraqi forces are prepared to raid a Najaf mosque." Iraqi forces?? I highly suspect that these "Iraqi forces" will be the US Marines and a smaller group of Iraqi military personnel. Nowhere in the article does it even mention the US military, but as we all know, the Americans are heavily involved in this fight. I have a feeling this is a way of manipulating the story so that when the shit goes down, we have as few stains on us as possible. This article (via Juan Cole) not only describes the Marine's involvement with the siege of Najaf, but also points out this:
But in the battle in Najaf, at least, the Marines here say that they engaged al-Sadr's forces at the request of the local Iraqi police. They did not seek approval from more senior military commanders or from Iraqi political leaders, with the exception of the governor of Najaf. The governor, Adnan Al-Zurfi, an Allawi appointee, refuses to confirm having given the green light, although U.S. commanders in Baghdad cited his commands repeatedly as the political cover for the Marine attack.
Cole has more to say about this:
If Berenson and Burns are right, American Men on the Spot are making crucial policy decisions that have the potential to affect the lives of all Americans and all Muslims. The Marines in Najaf were acting like just another militia, engaging in a local turf war with Muqtada and his men, and giving no thought to the consequences of behaving barbarically in the holy city of Najaf. Readers sometimes complain to me that Muslims seem to have lots of holy cities and lots of mosques, so is Najaf really all that special? O.K., here are the holy cities in order of holiness: Mecca, Medinah, Jerusalem, Najaf, Karbala. Najaf and Karbala are especially holy to Shiites. There are other holy sites and cities, of course, but they are mostly sacred because of association with later saints. The five I just mentioned are sacred because of their direct association with the Prophet Muhammad, his son-in-law and vicar, Ali, and his grandson, Husain. The Shrine of Ali is a tomb, and although it has a mosque attached to it, it is not just a mosque. It is a Shrine. Like the shrine of the Prophet Muhammad in Medinah or the shrine of Imam Husain in Karbala, it is a sacred resting place of holy remains. A lot of mosques could be damaged with impunity. These shrines cannot. The ignoramus Marines in Najaf clearly don't know all this, and since they don't know it they don't have any business making military policy there. They have endangered all Americans profoundly by potentially spurring a whole new wave of Shiite terrorism against us, recalling the bad old days of the early to mid-1980s (when some of our present allies in Iraq, like al-Da`wa and SCIRI were attacking US targets like the embassy in Kuwait or helping take Americans captive in Beirut). (my emphasis)
I don't think "ignoramus" should be taken as harshly as it may sound. It just means they might not completely understand the implications of the situation they are in, and the actions they are taking. Hell, if I was in their position, it would be hard to keep the broader picture in mind, too. Just for the record, Cole is a Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the History Department of the University of Michigan, so he does have the legitimacy to be making these statements. update: Maybe this has been avoided.