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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

April 2, 2003

Karbala watch: contained.

My compassionate friends at Winds of Change have brought this report to my attention:

U.S. forces have encircled the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Kerbala, securing all major exit routes in the face of only light Iraqi opposition, and are now advancing further north.

Commanders of the U.S. 3rd Infantry had expected a day-long battle to seize the perimeter of the city, just 70 miles southwest of Baghdad. But in the end the operation was completed within three hours.

Rather than tackle Iraqi fighters who might be positioned further inside Kerbala U.S. forces were instead continuing their drive on the Iraqi capital, military sources said.
Prior to the attack, U.S. officers had said a full Iraqi brigade of around 6,000 men, including tanks and artillery, were believed to have taken up position around Kerbala.

Many of those men might have retreated inside the city but the U.S. military said they did not want to engage in street-to-street fighting at this stage.

Instead, the plan was to secure a bridgehead to the east over the nearby Euphrates river which will be need to move infantry and armor up toward Baghdad. Different U.S. units are also pushing northwards on the eastern side of the river.

This is mixed news. It is good that there won't be street-fighting, which would be dangerous to the Shi'a in Karbala and potentially damage the shrines (especially the great tombs of Imam Husain AS and Moulana Abbas Alamdar AS). But at the same time it leaves the Iraqi military entrenched within the city (and probably the tombs as well). I fear for the saffety of Shi'a there, especially those in my community who might remain (though I have heard unconfirmed reports that all Bohras left Karbala some weeks ago before the fighting began).

UPDATE: a very upbeat report from an embed: Cheers at last for US invaders :

Hundreds of curious civilians, many of them smiling and waving, lined the narrow, dusty streets while soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division pressed to within 500 metres of the gilded dome of the tomb of Ali, a site venerated by Shiite Muslims as the grave of the prophet Muhammed's son-in-law.

As Major-General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st, drove in an armed convoy up a rocky escarpment into Najaf, he was urged on by clapping Iraqis who gestured impatiently for the Americans to press deeper into the city centre. Najaf, with a population of about 500,000 people, is 160 kilometres south of Baghdad.

An army loudspeaker truck broadcast messages in Arabic, urging residents not to interfere with the military operation and blaming fedayeen fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein for the intense fighting of the past week.

US flags flapped from the antennae on two special forces utilities as infantrymen shambled north block by block, cautiously securing intersections and peering through doorways.

Young men in kaftans stood smoking or chatting while boys rode in two-wheeled carts drawn by donkeys.

Four women in black peered over the wall of a second-storey terrace. A bearded man clutching his prayer beads peevishly scattered a group of youths who had pressed too close to an army Humvee armed with a .50-calibre machine-gun.
Najaf is considered important because it virtually straddles the army's supply line stretching from Kuwait to Baghdad's southern approaches. Military planners have been baffled by the indifferent reception given to the troops by Iraq's often-oppressed Shiite majority, and Tuesday's welcome, if hardly tumultuous, was considered heartening. After intense artillery, tank and air bombardment of suspected fedayeen strongholds on Sunday, the attack reached a climax on Tuesday morning when US Air Force planes dropped three 2000-pound bombs on three buildings - two just north of Ali's tomb and the other just south - believed to be resistance strongholds. "It looked like sunrise," a US liaison officer said.

No casualties from the 101st were reported on Tuesday. Iraqi civilian casualties in Najaf remained uncertain, although Colonel Ben Hodges, commander of the 1st Brigade, said: "It would be almost unfathomable that nobody was injured.

"We've hit them hard the last two days, wherever they're firing at us - from homes, from schools. But the one place I've absolutely told them they cannot fire is into the mosque [at the Ali tomb].

"I believe they were shocked that we would shoot that close and hit that hard. But look, the gold dome is still standing."

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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