Friday, August 27, 2004

And here I was thinking that it would take divine intervention to stave off a disaster in Najaf. All it took was the intervention of a divine:

Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, made a dramatic return to Najaf on Thursday and swiftly won agreement from a rebel cleric and the government to end three weeks of fighting between his militia and U.S.-Iraqi forces. ...

The five-point plan calls for Najaf and Kufa to be declared weapons-free cities, for all foreign forces to withdraw from Najaf, for police to be in charge of security, for the government to compensate those harmed by the fighting, and for a census to be taken to prepare for elections expected in the country by January.

Still, conspicuously absent from, at least, this reported summary is the disarmament of Muqtada al-Sadr's militias outside of Najaf -- elsewhere in the Shiite south, for instance, or in the Baghdad slums of Sadr City. If it comes out looking like al-Sadr got what he wanted (withdrawal of U.S. forces), won reparations, and gets to fight on elsewhere... well, that's the kind of truce that looks like a defeat. At any rate, according to this AFP dispatch (via Mark Kleiman), that's how it looks to Iraqis on the ground:

Akir Hassan, 63, woke up at 6:00 am (0200 GMT) to heed a call by his spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to leave his village south of Kut to converge on the revered mausoleum.

Tears ran down his wrinkled face and his feet barely touched the ground as the elated crowd squeezed through the gates and into the shrine`s courtyard.

He and the others were greeted like heroes by the 300 besieged Sadr militiamen inside.

"God is great. This is democracy, this is the new Iraq, this is the greatest defeat we could have inflicted on the Americans. It`s the most beautiful day in my life," he shouted, hurrying inside the main mausoleum to pray.

Which almost certainly does us less damage than the centuries of hatred we would have earned with a "victorious" attack on the Shrine of Ali, but it's still not good.

See Juan Cole, as ever, for comment from someone who actually knows what he's talking about. He has the big losers in this affair as us (looking more brutal and clueless than ever) and Allawi (who comes out looking like our errand boy); he has it as a wash for Muqtada (hmmm... yes, he does have to disarm within Najaf, but he gets no credit from potential recruits for appearing to have fought us off?), and a big win for Sistani.


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