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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Imam Ali Shrine

It's looking increasingly more likely that US military forces will storm the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. Signs are pointing that way. From a BBC report:

"Iraqi and US forces are making final preparations as we get ready to finish this fight that the Moqtada militia started," said Col Anthony Haslam, commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Najaf.

"The desired end state is one of stability and security, where the citizens of Najaf do not live in fear of violence or kidnappings, and where the city of Najaf can once again return to peace and prosperity."

The US military said on Monday that Najaf's Governor, Adnan al-Zorfi, had given its troops permission to raid the Imam Ali mausoleum. The US says the insurgents are using the shrine as a refuge, but an attack could anger Shia Muslims.

This follows two days of similar statements by military officials, including this NY Times report from Monday in Najaf.

Spokesmen for the United States command say they have explicit authority from Dr. Allawi to enter the cemetery, where they claim to have killed more than 360 rebel fighters, and to advance on the shrine itself, if that proves necessary to dislodge the rebels.

A senior military official told reporters in Baghdad on Monday that the command would wait a few days to see how the rebels responded to their situation in the area of the mosque.

But he also hinted that an assault on the shrine had not been ruled out. "At the moment we are not conducting operations in that area, but we are ready to do so at a moment's notice," he said.

The spokesman laid down a possible rationale for an assault, saying that the rebels had used the shrine and the cemetery to stockpile arms and ammunition, and were fighting from behind tombs and headstones. All of this, the spokesman said, stripped the shrine of protection under the Geneva Conventions. "The use of that site makes it a legitimate target under international law," he said.


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