Protests Erupting in Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Mass protests against the U.S. assault on the sacred Shi'ite Muslim city of Najaf broke out in five Iraqi cities on Friday, with some demonstrators calling for interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to step down. In one of the biggest protests, enraged Iraqis in the southern town of Diwaniya swarmed over the local office of his political party, ripping down signs and throwing rocks. A military offensive by U.S. and Iraqi forces against militiamen of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has inflamed passions among Iraq (news - web sites)'s majority Shi'ites. Thousands also protested in central Baghdad, Kufa and Samawa. The military campaign infuriated residents of the Sunni-dominated town of Falluja, a hotbed of resistance. About 3 thousand demonstrators marched in the center of Falluja carrying pictures of Sadr and placards denouncing the U.S. bombing of Najaf, where the cleric and his followers are surrounded. "Long live Sadr. Falluja stands by Najaf against America," the demonstrators shouted.
When the Sunnis and the Shia get together to express their outrage at you, things aren't going well. It also appears that Muqtada Sadr has been injured in the fighting, although it is not clear to what extent.
NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) - Shiite militia leader Moqtada Sadr was reported wounded, urging partisans to fight on, as US and Iraqi forces closed in on his Najaf stronghold, and a British journalist was abducted in the south. "The injuries are in his chest, legs and arms. He was hurt in an attack while checking one of the fighting battalions," said spokesman Sheikh Ali Sumeisim on the ninth day of the battle in this Shiite Muslim pilgrimage city. In pain, Sadr pressed his Mehdi Army to "continue the jihad (holy war) even if he dies a martyr," said another spokesman at the Imam Ali shrine, a militia stronghold since its spring uprising against the US-led occupation of Iraq (news - web sites). "His condition is not known yet," added Sheikh Ahmed al-Shaibani, while another aide said the leader was wounded early Friday, at around 7:00 am (0300 GMT) inside the old city. Tense and glum fighters roamed the mausoleum area, torn between disbelief and anger that their leader had been hurt. "He is our leader and we would be lost without him as we were lost when his father died," said Faris al-Husseini, 27. "I hope he will heal very soon and that his injuries are minor."
Someone on the BBC commented last night that we need to take out Sadr and his militia in order to prevent Iran from gaining further control and influence in the Shia south. I am sure that Iranian influence is prominent throughout certain parts of Iraq, and I am sure this is an important task. I am a bit concerned, though, that we do not have the troop levels to both take out the militia and deal with the consequences. Given the election, I would assume it is more likely to pull everyone out than throw more troops in. update: Just got done reading my daily dose of Juan Cole. Has some very interesting thoughts on what is going on in Iraq these days.
Although Muqtada and his men are now under siege, Waco-style, it is not for sure that the Marines can capture or kill him. I suspect Najaf is crisscrossed by underground tunnels, which is how Muqtada and others used to evade Saddam's secret police. If he is trapped in the shrine, and the siege goes on very long, that in itself could inflame Shiite passions against the US. Remember that Waco was in the back of the mind of Timothy McVeigh, who later blew up a Federal building. My guess is that if Muqtada is killed, and maybe also if he is captured and imprisoned, that will tip the Sadr movement into conducting a long-term low-intensity guerrilla war, similar to what Sunni radicals and Arab nationalists have done in the Sunni heartland for the past 16 months. The south had been much quieter than the Sunni Arab areas, but I suspect that calm can no longer be taken for granted. The question is what happens to the Iraqi government if it faces two major guerrilla insurgencies going on at the same time.
The McVeigh analogy is particularly apt. I'm not sure how people can argue that the war in Iraq has made us safer when you consider the numbers of innocent people killed. Many of their friends and family, rightly or wrongly, will blame the Americans. If Sadr is killed or captured, it will be fuel to the hatred already raging in many Iraqis and Muslims throughout the world.