Skip to comments.America Nervous As Militant Cleric's Rallies Attract Mass Support
Posted on 04/19/2003 4:42:59 PM PDT by blam
America nervous as militant cleric's rallies attract mass support
By Julian Coman in Washington and Sean Rayment in Kuwait
Every day, the rallies held by Battle to prevent Chalabi taking power grow bigger. Every day the American marines in the eastern Iraqi town of Kut, close to the Iranian border, become more nervous.
Mr Abbas is a militant Shia cleric with an unnervingly fine grasp of the political possibilities of post-war Iraq. Some days ago, he walked into Kut town hall and simply took it over, accompanied by hundreds of supporters, many of whom had crossed the border from Iran.
Now thousands attend his meetings, while the marines consult with rival tribal leaders on how to get him out. Yesterday's rally was bigger than ever. As he spoke, Mr Abbas voiced what are quickly becoming the standard demands: an Islamic, Shia-dominated state for Iraq, and an end to American occupation.
Similar events are occurring in towns and cities throughout the centre and east of Iraq. Shia fundamentalists, long cowed by Saddam's brutal methods of crowd control, are striving to exploit a power vacuum yet to be filled by Gen Jay Garner, America's designated civil administrator for Iraq.
When Gen Garner arrives in Baghdad with his staff of 500, possibly in the middle of this week, Iraq's looters may be the least of his problems.
In Najaf, the principal seat of Shia learning, a fierce battle is going on between radical and moderate clerics. On April 10, as factionalism took hold, two rival clerics died there in pools of blood - one of them Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a religious moderate previously cultivated by Tony Blair.
Now another of the holy city's moderate religious leaders, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Alo al-Sistani, refuses to leave his house. Aides say that he is making a protest against the murders. Others say that he fears for his own life.
The concern for coalition forces is that pent-up resentment at years of repression under Saddam, and the tension caused by internal schisms, may be unleashed on American and British troops.
On Friday in Baghdad, in the first genuine mass demonstration in the capital for decades, Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims marched together chanting the same slogans: "No to Bush, no to Saddam, yes to Islam," and "Leave our country, we want peace."
The march took place immediately after Friday prayers. The aim of the demonstration and others like it is becoming increasingly focused: an Islamic state for Iraq.
The Shi'ites form 60 per cent of the population of Iraq, which under Saddam was ruled by Sunni Muslims. Men such as Mr Abbas believe that they can become the dominant force in such a state. At present, circumstances are working in their favour.
Hardly anyone is going to work. Offices are closed or wrecked; the economy, such as it was, has collapsed. There is as yet no new authority to replace Saddam and the citizens of Iraq are disorientated. For the revolutionary mullahs, the conditions are ideal.
In Washington and London, the official line is still: if you give people democracy, you don't get to pick and choose for them.
Maj Gen Tim Cross will be Gen Garner's deputy in Iraq. In Kuwait, where Gen Garner's team has been for weeks, waiting until it is safe to move, he told The Telegraph: "Iraq has been under the rule of tyranny three times longer than the German people were under Hitler. Sixty per cent of the population of Iraq are under 30.
"They have known nothing but the rule of Saddam Hussein. To get them to understand freedom, speak their mind, make their own decisions, to get them to believe that they can choose what to do with their future, is going to take time.
"You can't say you are going to give people the freedom of choice and then start saying, 'This is not acceptable and neither is that'."
Certain options are, however, out of bounds. "There are certain guiding principles that we want the Iraqi people to acknowledge," said Maj Gen Cross. "We do not want them to hold weapons of mass destruction, we don't want them to be a threat to their neighbours."
Clerics such as Syed Abbas, who is believed to receive funding from neighbouring Iran, are hardly likely to threaten the religious regime in Teheran. In fact, he represents precisely the kind of cross-border Shi'ite alliance that Washington fears will develop as an unintended consequence of the war against Saddam.
Nerves are beginning to jangle in Washington at the prospect that "democracy" in Iraq may produce a militant religious regime which strengthens the regional hand of Iran, also part of President George W Bush's "axis of evil".
During the conflict, the US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, issued stark warnings to Iranian military forces, intelligence personnel, or their proxies, to stay out of the war. The warning was directed at Iranian militants eager to assist a Shi'ite uprising. The battle with Saddam is over, but that secondary danger is growing.
"Clearly, the United States would not wish for a strengthening of militant Islam in the region," said a US government official. "But we're hopeful that won't happen."
In the Pentagon, great hope has been invested in the controversial figure of the Iraqi exile, Ahmad Chalabi. The leader of the Iraqi National Congress and commander of the Free Iraqi Forces exile army is in Baghdad, but has been greeted coolly and, on occasion, violently.
On Friday, driving through the capital, a car carrying the flag of the Iraqi National Congress and a large photograph of Mr Chalabi was sprayed with automatic gunfire. After Friday prayers at the Salati Jimad mosque, when thousands of militant supporters of the late Ayatollah Mohammed al Sadr, who was killed by Saddam in 1999, spilled onto the streets Mr Chalabi's name was openly derided.
According to Col Ted Seel, a member of US Special Forces who was air-lifted in with the Free Iraqi Forces, the Pentagon is having doubts about Mr Chalabi. "They're getting colder and colder and colder towards us," said Col Seel, who added that the group was being given no useful intelligence or American protection. As Saddam Hussein's regime crumbled, Mr Rumsfeld warned that the ensuing months could be chaotic. "Freedom is untidy," he said, "and free people are free to make mistakes."
As militant forces that consider themselves the enemies of Saddam and America gain influence across Iraq, Mr Rumsfeld's noble sentiments will be tested to the full.
In the nineteenth century, Americans had a fine tradition for handling such pretentious hucksters. We tarred and feathered them, and ran them out of town on a rail.
Here's a guy who's using military force to take over Iraq. Now, where are all the people on FR who protested Franklin Graham going into Iraq with food aid? Will you protest this guy, too, and demand that he be kept out of Iraq? Or do you have hostile words only for those who are nonviolent and Christian?
Response: But, But, But isn't that democracy? Or does the term democracy mean whatever suits the plutocracy?
It's whatever suits the secular will.
An Iraqi constitution should rule out theocracies.
On the other hand, we should assume that there are various agentes provocateurs with various agendas and sponsors working against us inside Iraq. I fully trust that we have the means to deal with these elements.
The other factor is getting power, water etc, back on line as soon as possible.
Finally, we should know better by now than to think that all Iraqis are going to love us, but I do believe that, like in Kuwait, a lot of them will be grateful and our position with regard to the Middle East will be affected favorably as a result.
Go here to see all the crap I wouldn't post.
We should tell them that that's a losing proposition.
We'll have to come back, ten years from now, and kill a bunch of 'em again.
Isn't it great! I just can't figure out why so many are so wrong so much.
A large percentage of the Shia don't want an Islamic state.
No surprise, here. These people need to learn that islam is not a religion, as much as it is a political tool.
Doom! Gloom! Quagmire! Poor planning! No plan! Starvation! Thirst! Disease! Innocent Iraqis dying! Looting! Priceless artifacts stolen while soldiers watch!
LOL. These lefties hope if they keep pitching they'll eventually get one right. I don't know about you but I'm not nervous.
A.N.S.W.E.R. finances and organizes the anti-America protests here and Iran does it it in Iraq. Every Arab government in the Middle East is constipated because WHEN we're successful in Iraq . . . they know the people in their countries are gonna want some changes.
They know they can't take us on militarily so, just as So-Damn Insane did, they're trying to affect world opinion. They'll be just as successful as So-Damn was. Pee Wee Klintoon stuck up a finger to see which way the political winds were blowing before he made ANY decision . . . BUT GW DOESN'T CARE WHAT INTERNATIONAL DESPOTS AND DICTATORS OR FRENCH POODLES THINK OF US.
Rather than this being a foreboding article like something The Guardian would print, this seems to me more of a heads up or a warning. Like they're saying, "Don't ignore this or it will undermine what has been accomplished," rather than, "See! We told you invading Iraq would lead to more fundamentalism!"
If you doubt this, just take a look at this article that The Telegraph printed a few days ago: I was right about the war ... and my ex-friends were wrong
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.