News and opinions on situation in Iraq
18/04/04 Coming Assault on the Shi'a Holy Cities – Sunni Insurgents Blow Up Key Bridges Into Baghdad as Militia Groups Blend Attacks vs. Coalition
TMPress International Newswire

TMPress – United News & Press Features

(TMPress International – New York – April 18, 2004) – Coming Assault on the Shi'a Holy Cities … Sunni Insurgents Blow Up Key Bridges Into Baghdad as Militia Groups Blend Attacks vs. Coalition … Armed clashes and exchange of fire between the coalition forces and the Mehdi Army were reported in and around Najaf after a break down in negotiations, Al-Arabia television network reported. An aide of rebel Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had said earlier, `that the US troops are in a position to attack Najaf at any moment.' `He warned that an American attack against Najaf would trigger a massive Shiite uprising.' The US has stationed forces outside the Shiite holy cities of Najaf, Karbala, Kufa and Kut, but their troops have so far held back at the heels of warnings from Iraq's top Shi'a clergy … a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric … Sheikh Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalai, warned coalition troops against entering the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, calling them `red lines.' He said, `if the Marjaiya feels that the spilling of blood and carrying of arms prevails, then it will not hesitate to pursue more radical means to achieve its goals in protecting the holy cities.' Sheikh Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalai said in his weekly sermon at the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala on Friday. The Marjaiya is the top Shi'a religious hierarchy in Iraq, along with the other Grand Ayatollahs, including Ali Sistani. Coalition authorities confirmed earlier on Saturday that a U.S. soldier had died of his wounds after clashes in the outskirts of Iraqi holy city of Najaf with the Mehdi Army … speaking at a news conference U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt claimed that two militiamen were killed in the clash on Friday evening also. Qais al-Khazaali, the head of Sadr's office told reporters in Najaf, `that mediations with the Coalition side have been halted because the mediators have told us the Americans are putting obstacles towards finding solutions to the crisis and the situation is getting worse … we are expecting the Americans to attack Najaf.'

Also, in Baghdad Saturday, Sunni insurgents blew up key bridges outlying and connecting Baghdad, the routes affected are two bridges south of the capital … cutting the main road that links Baghdad with the second largest port city of Basra in the South. According to reports from the U.S. representatives of the CPA … they reiterated at the most recent press gatherings that the two roads are closed for some military reason, but have refused to confirm reports about the blasts. In other military action, U.S. Marines clashed with nearly 150 insurgent militia in Qaim, near the Syrian border. According to the city police chief … five U.S. Marines and scores of insurgents were killed in the 14-hour battle, an embedded journalist from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the military action, U.S. military spokesman at CPA headquarters would not confirm the report.

Events have begun putting pressure on Coalition forces to vastly expand their area of operations within Iraq, while at the same time the resultant collapse of several sectors of the new Iraqi security services designed to gradually troops from the Coalition has caused another crisis. Stirred support for the Sunni and Shiite insurgents across both communities has also inflamed tensions between Arabs and Kurds in general, this as reports surface from Fallujah that Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary forces have been deployed and are fighting alongside U.S. Marines in Fallujah. A battalion size force of the newly graduated Iraqi Army, mostly Arab, refused to deploy to areas in and around Fallujah and join in the fighting against Sunni militia. Sources close to the new Iraqi military now say this group of several hundred Iraqi soldiers are now being detained for disobeying direct CPA orders to fight. U.S. officials said they are refiguring initial assessments that the uprisings might be contained military confrontatios in Fallujah, Najaf and other south central areas of Iraq.

In surprising developments, the fiery Shi'a cleric Sadr has had his pictures begin appearing at various Sunni mosques in Baghdad and in and around the so-called Sunni Triangle … places where there had previously shown little interest in his movement. Coalition experts in-country see this as a very disturbing sign … the displays of common unity between the sometimes very polar Sunni and Sheís communities could have country-wide implications for militias working together, making Coalition troops and contractors supposedly stabilizing duties a nightmare. Something that CPA officials in Baghdad and the Bush White House have dreaded as an outcome – all this coming at the same time as the mechanisms of the supposed transfer of sovereignty to an Interim Iraqi Government are still being worked out by the UN, CPA and the current Iraqi Governing Council, to be put in place for the June 30 hand over of self-governance. – By John Osborne, Sr. Political Editor – TMPress International Newswire

© 2004 TMPress International Newswire. Reprint granted without fee or license, please query for reprint permission.

Article Sources/Citations: TMPress International, international news channels and newswire services, the Washington Post.

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