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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 5, 2004

the merging front.

Has the Iraqi civil war truly begun? Events are certainly proceeding in parallel to my own worst-case scenario back in June.

Before the Shi'a uprising, we were fighting a war on two fronts in Iraq: the Al-Qaeda infiltration which sought to turn Shi'a against Sunnis, and the Ba'ath guerilla insurgency which seeks to restore Saddam's regime. Muqtada Sadr's timing fo rhis insurgency was impeccable, given the Sunni-led insurrection in Falluja and the slowly-building American military response; it's not an exaggeration to say that retaliation in Falluja will consume a significant fraction of the military's resources in Iraq. Fears of Mogadishu will ensure that these resources are spent in Falluja, giving Sadr's Mehdi Army that much more breathing room to pose a direct challenge.

The result is that a response to the Shi'a uprising will require heavy reliance on Iraqi civil defense troops - who are also not professional enough to be fully trusted. In fact those Iraqi forces turned on the American troops yesterday:

US Apache helicopters sprayed fire on the private army of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during fierce battles today in the western Baghdad district of Al-Showla, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.

"Two Apaches opened fire on armed members of the Mehdi Army," said Showla resident Abbas Amid.

The fighting erupted when five trucks of US soldiers and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) tried to enter the district and were attacked by Sadr supporters, Amid said.

Coming under fire, the ICDC, a paramilitary force trained by the Americans, turned on the US soldiers and started to shoot at them, according to Amid.

The soldiers fled their vehicles and headed for cover and then began to battle both the Mehdi Army and the ICDC members, he said. Their vehicles were set ablaze.

Now, we fight a three-front war. And our troops have no allies, whereas the three fronts show every sign of an emergent cooperation:

Immediately after the Kufa firefight, representatives arrived to consult with Sadr officials from the Badr Organization, the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and a delegation from the Dawa Party, the two most prominent Shiite parties represented on the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

But armed men from Fallujah and Baqubah -- centers of resistance in the Sunni heartland west and north of Baghdad -- also appeared at the mosque, offering support.

Sistani is calling for calm but this stage will need to play itself out before it can be brought back into control. Assassinating Sadr will likely cause things to get worse in the short term, and have an unknown effect on the long term - I suspect that Sadr is replaceable and that there is no shortage of firebrands willing to take up his banner, especially with his face on it above the word "martyr".

June 30th is coming, an increasingly meaningless date for "handover" of what passes for sovereignity in a nation where the official ruling body is comprised of selected expats, the country is occupied by a foreign military, and a firebrand cleric's homegrown militia is the face of law and order. Islamic theocratic order, to be sure.

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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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