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Shiite-U.S. Forces Going to All-out War?

Posted August. 08, 2004 22:08,   


Iraq’s interim government is entering a new phase again, 40 days after its establishment.

U.S. forces and the interim government have drawn a double-sided card of hardline and moderate policy, rushing into mop-up operations against militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia and offering limited pardons to conciliate the moderates.

However, this measure instead spurred anti-American sentiment, leaving open the possibility of an all-out war between Shiite groups, which form more than half the Iraqi population, and U.S. forces, foreign media reported.

--Tying hands and feet, and closing mouths

Mobilizing heavy weapons including combat planes and helicopters, U.S. forces attacked Najaf, the largest stronghold of Sadr’s Mehdi militia, for four days starting last Thursday after a ceasefire agreement failed.

According to U.S. forces, the attack killed 400 militia members, with 1,200 members laying down their arms, while on the U.S. side, seven people were killed and about 10 were wounded. It was the highest number of casualties since the ceasefire agreement in June.

However, al-Sadr spokesman Ahmed al-Shaybani said, “Just nine were killed and 20 were wounded in the battle with the U.S. forces.”

Following the pressure operation on the Mehdi militia, the caretaker Iraqi government closed an office of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad on Saturday.

Minister of Home Affairs, Falah al-Naqib said, “Al-Jazeera has propagated a negative image of Iraq and Iraqi people, and encouraged terrorists’ activities so far.” He added, “The National Security Committee has decided to close an office of Al-Jazeera in the interests of the Iraqi people.”

U.S. forces and the caretaker Iraqi government believe Al-Jazeera is stirring up anti-American sentiment and acting as a mouthpiece of the insurgents under no administrative control; therefore, it is said to be an intention to close the mouth of the insurgents by closing Al-Jazeera.

--Unsavory carrots

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi signed an amnesty on Saturday for Iraqis guilty of minor crimes such as possessing small weapons and explosives for 15 months since the first of May last year. The amnesty period is 30 days. This measure is being interpreted as an attempt to persuade moderate insurgents who took part in the anti-U.S. resistance to put down their weapons and join the Iraqi military, to calm the violent situation.

Prime Minister Allawi also sent Sadr a conciliatory gesture, suggesting participation in the general elections scheduled for next January.

However, those who were already accused and sentenced to penalties are excluded from the amnesty, resulting in the effectiveness of the amnesty being doubted, foreign media reported.

Sadr said, “Anti-U.S. resistance is not illegal, therefore, there is no need of amnesty,” regarding the amnesty, making clear of his intention of continuing anti-U.S. resistance.

The turmoil in the Iraqi political situation is expected to continue for the time being, and a failure of next January’s general elections is also feared.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “I am very concerned that a large number of casualties in the Najaf battle are innocent people,” and added, “All parties concerned have to make every effort to end the internal war situation and to seek a peaceful solution.”

Ho-Gab Lee gdt@donga.com