Last night I was chatting with an Iraqi friend from Baghdad, and he told me the Americans would be ill-advised to enter the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, but that they would anyway, causing a massive disaster.
“I don’t think so,” I said cautiously as we sat on my stoop. “I don’t think the Americans would be _that_ foolish.”
Well, maybe I was wrong. At least one coalition soldier was killed in a skirmish either just inside or on the outskirts of the city. Some outlets say the fighting is more widespread than the _Times_ reports. Negotiations with rebel Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have apparently broken down.
Juan Cole notes that Muqtada, in his Friday sermon, said, “We shall never permit these forces to enter this city of Najaf or the holy sites, for they are forbidden to them.” Kevin Drum notes that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is supporting al-Sadr and Ahmed Chalabi is supporting Sistani.
[T]he powerful spiritual leader of all Iraq’s Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has told them that he has “drawn a red line” around Najaf.
It’s a classic Iraqi power-play. Al-Sistani has brought Sheikh Sadr to heel so now he will protect him against an American threat to capture or kill the imam who is wanted on murder charges.
But Najaf may not be the biggest problem. The Israelis assassinated the new Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi in a missile strike today. The reactions from the Palestinians? “It was Bush.”
With the death of al-Rantissi churning the Arab world (thanks, Ariel! You just keep making Americans’ jobs harder in Iraq and in the wider Arab world) and Americans massing on the outskirts of the Shi’ism’s two holiest cities — Karbala and Najaf — the United States is looking at the makings of a perfect storm.
Security in Iraq is mostly a a fiction. The United States is fighting for control of major supply lines into Baghdad. Sixty percent of Iraq’s Muslims are becoming increasingly restive and more likely to work with Sunni fighters. Whether the charges are true or not, stories of brutalities against the residents of Fallujah by U.S. Marines are distressing the Arab world and fueling anti-Western sentiment. In short, the twin occupations of the Middle East — the Palestinian territories and Iraq — are becoming part of the same war in the minds of Muslims everywhere.
Is that the war American and Israel wants?