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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Deja Vu All Over Again

From the NY Times earlier today, this Reuters report:

Fighting broke out in Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf on Wednesday between rival Shi'ite militias, raising fears of a renewed uprising by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army against the U.S.-backed government.

At least eight people were killed and dozens wounded, health officials said, in street battles in Najaf involving pro-government Badr Organization fighters and supporters of Sadr, who has joined Sunni Arabs in denouncing a constitution the Shi'ite-led government is preparing to force through parliament.

The head of the Badr Organization denied it was involved.

The interior minister dispatched police commandos to Najaf and announced a curfew in the city on state television.
Christopher Allbritton, as always, writing from Baghdad, gives more contextual details (and earlier than Reuters, I should add):
Baghdad — Earlier this evening, Najaf police units, led by a Badr Organization commander, descended on Moqtada’s office in Najaf, located on the main street approaching the Imam Ali Shrine. In the clash, Moqtada’s office, only four meters from the shrine, was burned to the ground, according to Abu Hazzim, who worked in the Najaf office and fled for his life to Sadr City. He says 23 people have been killed, most of them Moqtada’s supporters, while media reports put the number between five and eight. Iraqi Army and police have been involved in the fighting. Many of the police and army units in the south are packed by Badr militiamen with more loyalty to the party than to the state. As I write, clashes continue.

Moqtada has put out an alert for the jaysh al-Mahdi militia to be on high alert in Sadr City, Najaf, Nasriyah, Amarah and Basra. In Sadr City and Basra, jaysh al-Mahdi members have asked to occupy/attack SCIRI and Badr offices, but so far they’ve been kept in check by Moqtada and Fatah al-Sheikh, one of Moqtada’s supporters in parliament.[...]

This may blow over or it may blow up. But these are fast moving events. Coming on the eve of the constitution vote, as well as large clashes between Sunni insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces in western Baghdad that are also continuing, these events can only be seen as worrisome.

Ahh, yes. The draft constitution. The unfortunate document which seems to show American soldiers are dying not in the name of freedom, but rather an Iranian style Islamic republic. To wit, the Reuters report adds:
Parliament is expected to vote on Thursday on the new constitution, although no sitting has yet been scheduled. When it was presented just before a Monday deadline, the vote was put off for three days, apparently to help tempers cool after Sunnis said they would demand further major changes.

A senior U.S. military official said his forces were bracing for an insurgent onslaught: ``We believe that the enemy is still ... intending to conduct some larger-scale operation in Baghdad associated with the release (of the constitution),'' he said.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani held another day of talks with leaders from the Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish communities on Wednesday to try to forge a consensus on the charter, but he looked unlikely to succeed before the vote on Thursday.

Sunni leaders said they were determined to stand firm against a document they argue would devolve too much power to the regions and which demonizes Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

``We reject federalism in the central and southern regions, we reject it because it has no basis other than sectarianism,'' Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of an umbrella group called the National Conference for the Sunni People of Iraq, told reporters.

``Every Iraqi must stand in the way of all those who want to deepen sectarianism in Iraq.''

In Hawija, north of Baghdad, hundreds of Sunnis, joined by Sadr supporters, marched against the constitution.
Sunnis and Shia together again. Longtime readers may recall this post (Consider the Fan Hit) from April of 2004, and in what context we last saw this same coupling. Tomorrow should be a bang-up day in Iraq.

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