Skip to comments.[Cowardly] Iraqi Forces Take Cover in Shiite Shrine
Posted on 04/02/2003 7:05:40 AM PST by JohnHuang2
Iraqi Forces Take Cover in Shiite Shrine
By NICOLE WINFIELD .c The Associated Press
CAMP AS SALIYAH, Qatar (AP) - Iraqi forces have taken up positions inside the Ali Mosque in Najaf, one of the world's most important Shiite shrines, and are firing on coalition troops, U.S. Central Command said Wednesday. Coalition forces have refused to return fire.
U.S.-led forces operating south of Baghdad are trying to root out Iraqi fighters in the holy Muslim Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala without damaging their gold-domed shrines. The coalition has declared the holy sites as ``no targets'' zones only to be fired upon in self-defense, and troops chose not to return fire Wednesday, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks.
Calling the Iraqi fighters' use of the mosque ``a detestable example of putting historical sites in danger,'' Brooks said coalition troops would try to avoid harming the shrine.
``This regime is firing from within a mosque, something that has no military value, and should be protected by them, but instead it is being protected by us,'' Brooks said during a briefing at Central Command headquarters.
``We don't have to go to that mosque and we certainly want to keep it as protected as possible,'' he said. ``It's something we know to be sacred, and something obviously the people of the town know to be sacred.''
There have been concerns that Saddam Hussein's Sunni Muslim regime would try to provoke U.S.-led forces to attack such holy sites, thereby alienating the country's majority Shiite population, whose support the coalition has been trying to rally. Damage to the shrines could inflame Shiite feelings against the United States worldwide, particularly in Iran.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday there was evidence that Iraq itself may be planning to damage the shrines, and then blame the coalition.
``We are doing everything we can to protect those holy sites and shrines,'' Blair said.
In Baghdad, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said his government was also concerned about possible damage to historical and cultural sites.
For the world's nearly 120 million Muslim Shiites, Najaf is the third holiest city, behind Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Najaf, whose name in Arabic means ``a high land,'' is the burial place of Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law and the Shiites' most revered saint. It is located about 100 miles south of Baghdad on a high desert plateau overlooking the world's largest cemetery, where Shiites aspire to bury their dead.
Ali's shrine in the city center, with its silver-covered tomb, ceramic ornamented walls and resplendent golden dome and minarets, is considered one of the landmarks of Islamic art.
Najaf is also the seat of the Shiites' spiritual leaders, known as ayatollahs, and the center for scientific, literary and theological studies for the Islamic world.
Karbala, about 40 miles to the north, is the burial place of Imam Hussein, Ali's son, who was killed in a battle with the army of the Muslim Sunni Omayad Kaliph Yazid in 680. Hussein's tragic death is memorialized by Shiites for its historical importance and its symbolic significance - as a struggle between justice and injustice.
The city, which is surrounded by date palm groves, overlooks a sandy expanse next to the Euphrates River.
The holy shrines in both cities are believed to have been built by Persian kings who filled them with priceless objects and gifts. They suffered heavy damage when Saddam's government put down a Shiite rebellion after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but they have since been restored.
Absolutely. In addition to general Shia unrest, this type of thing could possibly keep both Iran and the Shiites in Iraq from actively opposing Saddam Hussein. I'm pleased to see that the U.S. military seems to be aware of the possible repercussions.
This seems to be a variant of the strategy the Iraqis are using elsewhere -- trying to get us to kill civilians, and trying to blame us for humanitarian crises that are not our doing. (This strategy is itself a variant of something we've seen repeatedly over the past decade -- the claim that the Gulf War sanctions killed millions of Iraqi children.)
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