Monday, November 27, 2006

Sadr City.

The US attacks Sadr City, repeatedly blasts it to smithereens, kills dozens of civilians, and claims to have killed about 50 'insurgents' thus far. This is part of what they are calling Operation Together Forward. Sadr City has repeatedly fought the occupation and refused to be run by its troops, and the occupiers have been unable, despite their best efforts to take it over. A brutal US-imposed blockade was defeated at the beginning of the month. On 23rd November, last week, a series of six parked cars exploded with hundreds of kilos of explosives tore through markets in the city, home to about 2 million people. They managed to kill 202 of them, and wouned hundreds of others. The day after, there was once more intense warfare between the US forces and 'insurgents' there. Mortars have also been landing on the city, apparently courtesy of Sunni 'insurgents', while gunmen have opened fire on the Iraqi Ministry of Health, run by a supporter of Sadr. Over the weekend, mortars from near Sadr City hit a US post, but the Americans are refusing to describe the impact. The Sadrists have also threatened to walk out of the government if Maliki goes ahead with meeting Bush, thus potentially causing it to collapse.

It's now reported that the Mahdi Army are a bit pissed off with the attacks from occupiers and alleged Sunni insurgents, and took over the state-run television station to complain. The US-funded al-Iraqiya station has usually been the receptacle for programmes featuring heroic Special Police Commandos interrogating tortured 'terrorists'. It is reported in this piece that a number of Sadr supporters denounced the occupation, branded Sunnis 'terrorists' and threatened attacks on Sunni neighbourhoods. If true, this would be the first occasion on which the Sadrists had openly threatened sectarian attacks. It is widely reported that Sadr's followers have carried out such attacks, and this includes some lurid stories of Sunni patients being killed in Iraqi hospitals (the Iraqi Ministry of Health is run by a Sadr supporter). However, previous reports have tended to indicate that the Sadrist leadership discourages such actions. As this news item argues, the Mahdi Army is modelling itself on Hezbollah, providing welfare services, clearing up after bombings, and militarily defending its community.

Toby Dodge, the renowned historian of Iraq, calls this "anarchy, a war of all against all". It is better regarded as a "strategy of tension". It is believable that Sunni sectarians attacked Sadr City at exactly the same time as the occupiers were doing so, for their own reasons. Various English language websites claiming to be affiliated to the Iraqi resistance hail the attacks on Sadr City as operations against the Mahdi Army, whom they accuse of assisting the occupiers. On the other hand, of course, it isn't at all implausible that US surrogates planted a series of car bombs to attack the city. However, more importantly, the sectarian political process is being driven by the occupiers, and at the moment the effect is that anti-coalition fighters appear to be busily vanquishing one another rather than uniting against the common enemy.