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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

August 27, 2004

August 27, 2004





**  Iraq is at a crossroads in Najaf; the outcome will shape the "balance of power" in Iraq.

**  Ayatollah al-Sistani is the key to the Najaf crisis; "only he" can succeed where U.S. "failed."

**  The instability is a test for the "legitimacy-challenged" Allawi government.

**  U.S. "mistakes," lack of "respect" for sacred sites created "fertile ground" for radicals.




Iraq is at a 'watershed', stakes are 'very high'--  Global papers termed Najaf the "pivotal confrontation" and "tipping point" of post-war Iraq, predicting its outcome to be "decisive for the emerging democratic Iraq.”  Najaf is no longer a standoff between U.S. troops and al-Sadr's militia, explained London's left-of-center Guardian, it is "the place where the world outlook of Iraq's majority Shia populations could be settled for perhaps a generation."  Although some observers labeled al-Sadr an "anti-American firebrand" who was "clearly" out to destabilize the new government, France's center-right Le Figaro was just one to venture that he "may be on the verge of becoming an emblematic unifying agent for [opposing] America's political solution."


Sistani takes 'initiative'--  Many writers bet on Ayatollah al-Sistani as the "one to put things back in order" and stop al-Sadr's "looming myth-making."  Recognizing it would be a "stroke of genius" if he succeeds, Austria's liberal Der Standard cautioned that since neither the U.S. nor the interim government has "control of the situation" there is still a risk of "escalation by radicals."  Euro papers concurred with Saudi Arabia's moderate Al-Watan that deterioration of the security situation "led al-Sistani to come back as a rescuer" and that "his initiative will give religious groups power over their political counterparts."  An Italian outlet was impressed that "an unarmed ayatollah with great moral authority brokered a deal in only a few hours time."


A chance for Allawi to 'clear the table?'--  Papers split on PM Allawi's handling of the crisis.  Allawi supporters, mainly on the political right, admired him for managing the crisis with "undeniable skill" and for showing he was willing go "put his own political future on the line" by "adding his voice to those demanding the disarming" of the Mahdi militia.  Disbanding the militia, observed London's Daily Telegraph, would not only strengthen Allawi but also "create the conditions" to hold democratic elections in January.  Skeptics, particularly among Muslim and leftist observers, instead portrayed Allawi as a "loser" who was "unable to cope" with the resistance.  "In Sistani's absence," mused Lebanon's moderate Daily Star, Allawi and the newly installed national assembly "groped about in the dark for a palatable political alternative."


U.S. contributed to 'anti-American hatred'-- Muslim writers blamed U.S. mistakes and disregard for "sacred sites" for creating the conditions for radicals to gain power at the expense of "moderates" such as al-Sistani  Though Washington wants a "docile, pro-government in Baghdad after elections," chided Bahrain's pro-government Daily Tribune, U.S. attacks on al-Sadr and his militia are "only making him more popular and powerful."  A Turkish writer concluded the U.S.' "underestimation of the Shi'ites" was one of its biggest "miscalculations." 


EDITOR:  Irene Marr


Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888,


EDITOR:  Irene Marr


EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 82 reports from 31 countries over 19 - 27 August 2004.  Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.




BRITAIN:  "End Game In Najaf"


An editorial in the conservative Times held (8/27):  "Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani...returned yesterday to offer his cornered rival, Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, an 'honourable' exit from the shrine of Imam Ali....  It will not be represented as such, but this is an outcome with vital bearing on the leadership of the Shia world.... The reassertion of the ayatollah's authority will not end violence, but it would improve the prospects for political moderation in Iraq. The grand ayatollah had to be seen to win....  Failure was, however, all too possible.  The 24-hour ceasefire granted by Ayad Allawi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, expires at three this afternoon, and with it the 'safe passage' offered to Hojatoleslam al-Sadr if his followers disarm and disperse.  That was a tight deadline in ordered circumstances.  The reality is chaos.... The greatest risk is the survival of the al-Sadr militias....  Saving the shrine is an objective shared by all, but destroying the Najaf insurgency is key to civil order in Iraq.  The ayatollah was probably the best man for this endgame.  But for Iraq's sake, this accord must now be extended beyond Najaf."


"Sistani Is The Key To Peace In Najaf"


An editorial in the conservative Daily Telegraph read (8/27):  "Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani can move political mountains....  Now, he faces the toughest test yet of his authority....  His absence during a crucial period when the young Sadr was left free to act the anti-American firebrand may have dented the ayatollah's reputation.But he is the only figure capable of mediating between an interim government which is striving to acquire a monopoly of violence in Iraq, and the main armed challenge to its authority.... Today, it may become clearer as to whether the deal proclaimed last night is acceptable to all parties involved.... It is vital to the stability of Iraq that the sting be drawn from the younger man and his supporters.... The neutralising of the militia, whether the Kurdish peshmerga or those belonging to Sadr and the two most important Shia parties, is a prerequisite for the holding of free and fair elections next January.  In the confusion of a shattered Najaf, much hangs on the authority of an elderly Islamic scholar and teacher whose hitherto calming presence has been sorely missed over three bloody weeks."


"Three Men Hold The Fate Of Iraq In Their Hands -- And The Stakes Remain High"


An editorial in the center-left Independent stated (8/27):  "If ever one man's journey resembled a desperate last throw of the dice, it was the passage from Basra to the holy city of Najaf undertaken yesterday by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.... For the Shia faithful, there was no higher authority than this....  t has to be acknowledged that the peace plan announced last night appears to differ little from the terms that were offered by Mr. Allawi before....   But there is one crucial difference: the agreement carries the personal imprimatur of arguably the most venerated figure in Iraq: Ayatollah Sistani.  The immediate question now is whether this agreement will hold, and specifically whether Muqtada Sadr retains sufficient authority over his Mehdi army to cede the Imam Ali shrine....  The risk is of a Mehdi army on the loose.  On the other hand, if control of the shrine is surrendered peacefully, and intact, to Ayatollah Sistani, this would constitute a personal triumph for him and enhance his authority accordingly....The interim government's reluctance to authorise the use of all-out force to capture the shrine was a pragmatic choice, but a wise one, requiring a degree of patience and restraint that has been in lamentably short supply in Iraq.... The peaceful surrender of the shrine, it is happens, however, would not necessarily mean that Sadr's uprising is over....  Three individuals -- Ayatollah Sistani, the interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, and the troublesome imam, Muqtada Sadr -- now hold the fate of Iraq in their hands.  One costly crisis appeared last night to have been averted.  There will doubtless be many more to come."


"High Stakes Stand-off"


An editorial in the left-of-center Guardian (8/23):  "Over the last month, Najaf has become the pivotal confrontation of post-war Iraq.…Najaf is no longer merely a confrontation between U.S. troops and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi militia.  It has also become the place where the world outlook of Iraq’s majority Shia populations could be settled for perhaps a generation.…But the stakes are very high.... What is needed in Najaf is for the interests of majority Shia opinion - which still supports neither the Mehdi army nor the Americans - to prevail.  If that involves a setback for the U.S. and for the Allawi government, then so be it.  The outcome in Najaf will shape the balance of power in whatever Iraqi society and state emerges from the current insecurity.  But it could even settle the question of whether t is possible for a workable Iraqi state to survive at all within the existing borders.  We may want Najaf resolved - but it should not at any price.


 "Allawi Must Face Down The Militias In Iraq"


The conservative Daily Telegraph had this view (8/20):  “By adding his voice yesterday to those of his ministers who have demanded the disarming of the Mahdi Army militia, Mr. Allawi put his own political future, and indeed that of Iraq itself, on the line....  The disbanding of the militia would not only strengthen Mr. Allawi’s hand.  It would also create the conditions for the holding of democratic elections next January.  A campaign conducted while large numbers of armed men remained outside government control would be vulnerable to threats of violence and tilt the scales in favor of those communities, the Shias and the Kurds, which have the strongest militias.  To avoid this outcome, American forces will have to help Iraqi national guardsmen and policy take on the challenging task which the CPA shirked....  Seventeen months after the invasion of Iraq, the Americans find themselves backing, in Mr. Allawi, a man determined to assert his authority over the country by means of which the occupying powers would not necessarily have approved.  Washington’s ideal of a democratic model for the rest of the Middle East has become somewhat tarnished by the brutal necessity of holding a violent, faction-ridden country together.”


FRANCE:  "Quiet In Najaf"


Adrien Jaulmes averred in right-of-center Le Figaro (8/27): “Ayatollah Sistani has triumphed.… Control of Najaf is more than just controlling this small city built around the Mosque of Ali. The symbolic impact of this religious site gives he who controls it immense spiritual power in the eyes of the faithful… but also authority over the clerics and their innumerable secular powers… One of the first effects of the American offensive has been to give Sistani the upper hand. He has left to the Americans the ungrateful task of chasing the militia from Najaf… But Sistani, who has opposed every American political plan other than the organization of free elections in Iraq, has no intention of making the slightest gesture towards the Americans to thank them for their intervention.”


"The Iraqi Impasse"


Charles Lambroschini commented in right-of-center Le Figaro (8/23): “The impasse in Najaf is a reflection of the Iraqi quagmire. The Americans have come to realize that when dealing with al-Sadr, negotiations may not resume but that escalation will present only disadvantages. An assault on the Mosque would lead to a general insurrection. Not a single Shiite in Iraq would refrain from avenging the affront. But on the other hand the U.S. cannot give in.  A victory granted to al-Sadr would be a green light for rebellion from other groups.… The disappearance of two French journalists is just one more proof of the general anarchy that reigns in Iraq.… America’s dilly-dallying has not helped things. What happened in Falluja serves as a precedent to the present crisis: in order to get out from under, the Americans handed the keys to the city to former Saddam followers. Now those who rule this mini-republic are Jihaddists who have come from the Arab-Muslim world.… Why would al-Sadr leave Najaf, the latest autonomous enclave? To all Iraqis, whatever their political and religious affiliation, al-Sadr may be on the verge of becoming an emblematic unifying agent for having opposed America’s political solution: the country’s division among its various communities.”


"Sacred Places"


Michel Kubler opined in Catholic La Croix (8/20):  “Media coverage of Iraq brings the cities of Najaf and Karbala, clothed by the Shiite community with a quasi-divine dimension, before the rest of the world.... There have been and there will continue to be centuries of conflict and thousands of dead in the name of this so-called sanctity.  Yes, 'so-called.'  All due respect to the sacred places of history, nothing can justify killing in their name.  No war, in effect, should call on God.”


GERMANY: "Ruler Al-Sistani"


Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine judged (8/27): "The Ayatollah seems to succeed in one thing that neither the Iraqi transition government nor the U.S. soldiers managed to achieve:  Even before the religious leader explained his peace plan for the Shiite pilgrim city, calm returned....  Not in the heavily-guarded government quarter but in a very modest al-Sistani house in Najaf is the most important political center of the country.  But this will not remain so.  Al-Sistani uses his political influence on a regular basis, but he basically refuses to transfer power to the scholars of the law like in Iran.  Thus far, al-Sistani has prevented the Americans and Iraqi politicians from monopolizing him.  His reputation has grown further with his march to Najaf.  This will result in even more Iraqis asking for his opinion.  Al-Sistani already expressed his dissatisfaction with the position of Islam and the special rights for the Kurds in the transition constitution.  He will soon formulate his views more clearly.  But then he will not only be cheered at like during his return on Thursday."


"Among Victims"


Business-oriented Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf argued (8/27): "It will be wise for a-Sistani to ban the military and thus hopefully all forms of violence from Najaf.  The Iraqi government already announced a 24-hour cease-fire and now the coalition forces should also withdraw from the holy city.  This may be difficult after the heavy losses over the past three weeks, but it is the only way to create a climate of understanding.  Al-Sistani is pinning his hopes on the roots of Shiite teaching, and this preaches political abstinence, not revolution.  The different model in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini may serve as a warning example for al-Sistani, for the reputation of the religious leaders has suffered mainly because they have gone to the dregs of politics.  The consequence is a perceptible loss of authority."


"Favorable Moment"


Matthias Arning said in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (8/27): "At issue are the prospects for a better future for the country that has been worn out by long years of a dictatorship and by war.  The key to a different Iraq mainly lies in the hands of the Shiite majority.  They must send out a signal to the radical inner-Iraqi rebels:  there can be no democratic perspective if violence is used.  A democracy offers a hope for the future, time is necessary to make possible a tough, but not violent wrestling for a political future.  At the moment, it is important to appease the outraged; to encourage the disappointed, and to disarm the ones who use violence.  This is the task with which the beacon of hope, al-Sistani is directly confronted.  His mission will be decisive for the power of political authorities, the old man must take advantage of the moment and, at the same time, call for greater patience."


"Power And Mosque"


Rudolph Chimelli penned the following editorial in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (8/26): "If the keys for the holy mosque are really handed over to Ayatollah al-Sistani...then this symbolic transfer can also be the key to the current crisis in Iraq....  With his 'March to Burning Najaf,' al-Sistani is trying to get back control over a mass movement which he was about to lose, since Muktada al-Sadr succeeded in radicalizing mainly poor Shiites....  The occupiers managed to drive the Shiites from a position of benevolent neutrality into an open enmity....  Al-Sistani's demand to al-Sadr's fighters to leave the mosque and to the Americans to go, corresponds exactly with this mood....  Al-Sadr's rebellion personifies a trend in Iraq that can no longer be ignored.  For the first time, a national element is mixing with a political one....  But irrespective of the outcome of the showdown, one loser is already clear right now:  the head of the provisional government, Allawi.  If he budges, he will lose his credibility, if he asserts his view, based on U.S. forces, he will finally turn into a puppet in the eyes of the Iraqis....  So far, Allawis' rule has not been a success.  He is unable to cope with resistance....  Every day, the staff of the coalition registers 40 'enemy activities.'  The U.S. forces...are moving on main routes and in convoys protected by tanks and helicopters.  A 'safer and better place,' which Iraq has become according to Britain's Prime Minister Blair, would look different"


"Al-Sistani's Wisdom"


Jacques Schuster wrote in a front-page editorial in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (8/26):  "The power struggle in Najaf is coming to an end - and hopefully gets off lightly.  An invisible third person is about to resolve the conflict with his methods: with the moderate, well-conceived power of his authority....  Al-Sistani is now stopping the looming myth-making of Muktad al-Sadr.  With his call upon all Shiites to march with him to Najaf and to expel all fighters from the holy shrine, he forces al-Sadr and his minions to surrender without siding with the Americans.  The conflict cannot be resolved in a better way....  The ayatollah again gained power.  In Iraq, there is no way around him."


"Without Allies In Iraq"


Frank Herold remarked in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (8/26):  "The U.S. government hoped for Ayatollah al-Sistani who was considered a man who acted with circumspection and was able to make compromises....  He was supposed to mediate and organize a handover of the holy shrine in Najaf.  But he is obviously not thinking about doing the Americans this favor.  Instead, he called upon the Shiite to march to Najaf to protect the holy shrine from international violent acts.  This is now creating new problems for the American soldiers in Najaf.  But it also shows that the occupying agencies do not have allies and do not enjoy support in Iraq, apart from the members of the so-called government whose members are risking their lives as soon as they leave the high-security part of Baghdad in which they have entrenched together with the occupation agencies."


"Waiting For The Savior"


Business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland editorialized (8/26):  "If there is really someone who can end the bloody battle between the rebellious militia forces and Iraqi and U.S. government forces, then it is Ayatollah al-Sistani: with words, not with guns….  As paradoxical as it may sound but his appeal to the Iraqis to march to Najaf offers a chance.  If he calls upon the people to save the 'burning city,' then this sounds as if he supported the fight of the preacher of hatred, al-Sadr, against the Americans.  But as a matter of fact, this could be an embrace that will weigh down the rival.  In the past, al-Sistani showed that he did not allow anyone to speak for him.  That is why al-Sadr cannot like the conflict to become a matter for al-Sistani.  Al-Sadr is not strong enough for an open revolt against the religious leader.  If al-Sistani demands to lay down arms, al-Sadr will have no other choice but to obey.  Or he will place himself outside of Islam."


"Losers From Najaf"


Martina Doering held in an editorial in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (8/23): "Total confusion is prevailing in Najaf.  If this affected only the news coming out of the city, this would not be so tragic.  But obviously, the U.S. military leadership, the Mahdi fighters, and the Iraqi government are confused, even though they continue to bomb, fight, and give orders.  All three consider the things they are doing right now a decisive battle....  But what kind of victory will it be if the Imam Ali Mosque and the Holy Shrine will remain unscathed?  To the Muslims it was demonstrated that the Americans do not show consideration for anything.  The next message is that a minor militia group can tease a large military power for such a long time.  And with this, the victory will turn into a defeat.  It may be possible that calm will return after the battles, but there will be new people of al-Sadr's nature.  The people in Najaf and the majority of Iraqis will not like this trouble makers, but after every new battle, they will hate the U.S liberators even more."


"Injustice And Disorder"


Right-of-center Muenchener Merkur carried an editorial by Werner Menner stating (8/23): "On a daily basis it is coming to haunt the United States…that it ignored the fact to think about the 'day after' in the shadow of its military showing off of power in Iraq.  The winners created the fertile ground on which the preacher of hate, al-Sadr, can now base his work.  Al-Sadr, who knows all tricks, turned into a nightmare long ago: for the Baghdad government under President Allawi, which is about to lose the rest of its credibility, but also for the U.S. forces that cannot afford to use all means in Najaf in the fight against al-Sadr."


"Dangerous Helplessness"


Bahman Nirumand opined in leftist die tageszeitung of Berlin (8/20):  "Even if his opponents kept their word and allowed him to withdraw together with his fighters, al-Sadr would be a nobody without arms and his militia forces.  As a spiritual leader he will be unable to claim his position towards the ayatollahs, and the same would be true for his position as politician against the existing political parties and organizations.  The proposal to transform his 'Mahdi Forces' into a political party is absurd, for his militia forces, which are politically and fundamentally religiously indoctrinated, could fight on the battlefield but they would be totally unsuited for the political arena.  Thus far, it has been al-Sadr's function to thwart the plans of the United States and the Iraqi transition government.  In this capacity, he received support from diverse forces in Iraq and from other countries that are interested in a failure of the Americans in Iraq.  If he loses this function, nobody will care any longer about him.  In view of these prospects, the only thing that remains for al-Sadr is to die as martyr.  These are not very good prospects for a diplomatic solution."


"On Shaky Ground"


Center-right Westfaelische Nachrichten of Muenster commented (8/20):  "Again Iraq is at a watershed.  Does democracy have a serious chance in the country?  A government that is able to assert its view only with an iron fist stands on shaky ground.  In addition to the rebellious Shiites, there are other important resistance groups in the country, for instance also among the Sunnis.  The trench warfare in the National Council...cast a light on the social fragmentation in Iraq.  If al-Sadr succeeds in causing the feared conflagration with is death as martyr, Iraq threatens to disintegrate.  The peaceful, democratic country, which George W. Bush promised, rather seems to be a mirage for most Iraqis today."


ITALY:  "The Revenge Of The Ayatollah”


Bernardo Valli opined in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (8/27): “In unarmed ayatollah with great moral authority brokered a deal in only a few hours’ time.… In exchange, the Americans must leave the city and the Iraqi police must restore order. We’ll see how the agreement between the ayatollah and the young Sadr develops. But it’s already clear that an outsider succeeded where the U.S.-nominated government of Ayad Allawi failed. al-Sistani exercises tremendous political influence, as he is the leading religious leader of the Shiite community. Sistani has never wanted to meet personally with the Americans, nor has he ever given his blessing to the Baghdad government supported by them. … He intervened at the right time, with wisdom. Once the rebels were exhausted and decimated, he convinced them to lay down their arms. He demonstrated that only he, and not the foreigners or the government that they support, could bring an end to the revolt. The agreement was reached ‘between Iraqis.’ al-Sistani’s success underscores Allawi’s impotence, even though the new prime minister, as well as the Americans, can momentarily breathe a sigh of relief.”


"Sistani Returns And Orders: Shiites, March On Najaf"


Gian Micalessin reasoned in pro-government, leading center-right Il Giornale (8/26): “Now Ali Sistani could be the one to put things back in order. Marching on the shrine and initiating talks will take away the taste of victory from the Americans and the government, but it will also remove the embarrassment of a possible massacre. In exchange Sistani will regain much of his faded authority. While waiting for Moqtada’s defeat he will be recognized as the sole Shiite authority, but he will be suspected of collaborating with the Americans."


"Najaf, Iraqi Troops Close In"


Renzo Cianfanelli stated in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (8/25):  “The ultimatum of ultimatums--the fifteenth in three weeks--in Najaf: ‘Withdraw from the shrine and lay down your arms, otherwise you will be destroyed,’ blasts the Iraqi National Guard. The leaders of the Shiite rebels retort ‘we are ready to negotiate for peace. Moqtada al-Sadr is here with us in Najaf.’ It’s impossible to tell whether the claim is true.… If the leader is in Najaf then why doesn’t he come out? Meanwhile, the civilian population is terrorized and continues to flee.… There is clearly a strategic plan to destroy the new government. Yesterday’s attacks were designed to damage the two ministries in which reforms have been the most successful - particularly the Ministry of Education.”


“In Najaf Iraqi Guard Poises For Final Attack”


Gian Micalessin remarked in pro-government, leading center-right Il Giornale (8/25): “The holy city of Najaf is once again a ghost town.… Fighting has resumed.… The final battle seems imminent, and conceivably essential given the dithering of the twenty-day siege, the ultimatums that were never respected.… A bloody ending, however, would not behoove anyone. It wouldn’t be advantageous for Moqtada Sadr, since he is not that mad to prefer martyrdom to a future as a leader. And it wouldn’t be advantageous for a reluctant government to cross the threshold of the inviolable ‘sancta sanctorum.’  A final attack also implies a double risk. The first violating a sacred Shiite.… The second...the massacre of civilians inside the shrine. The building is filled with the wives and children of Sadr’s followers and an attack could turn into a massacre broadcast to the entire Muslim world by Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabya. It would be a chilling scenario for Allawi and his aides who are trying to find a way out.”


"Crossing The Red Line"


Alberto Negri noted in leading business daily Il Sole-24 Ore (8/21): “If it’s true that the majority of the [Iraqi] population would like peace and stability, and therefore are not particularly fond of the fundamentalists, it is also certain that the last few months did not furnish Iraq with security and economic reconstruction. Many do not like Sadr, but just as many are resentful of the occupying forces. The threshold of Ali’s a metaphor of the Iraqi situation: the Americans cannot enter as they would violate the religious and national sentiments of an entire population, but they remain on the outside because they did not succeed in conquering the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. They have committed grave errors, thereby alienating the Shiites.… They [the Americans] were not successful in erasing from their [Shiites’] minds the betrayal of Bush the Father, when he incited them to rebel against the regime in ’91 and then left them to their tragic destiny.… It is now being said that the keys to the shrine of Ali will be given to Sistani. It is a symbolic gesture for the sake of finding a peaceful solution.  But there is...only one way out: the acknowledgment of the complexity of the Shiite issue...and to restore Iraq to the Iraqis.”


"Allawi’s Day Of Reckoning"


Maurizio Molinari’s concluded in centrist, influential La Stampa (8/20):  “Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi’s ultimatum to rebel leader Moqtada al-Sadr could be intended as a desire to end the guerrilla war, which continues to undermine the country’s stability, almost seventeen months after Saddam was toppled....  Allawi is striving to obtain his first military victory and accomplish three goals.  First:  to control the largest front of the guerrilla war, which includes Sunni Baathist loyalists and al-Qaida cells, led by Abu Musa al-Zarqawi.  Second:  to assert his political position as the most powerful, ruthless leader of the post-Saddam era.  Third:  to make Tehran understand that it is time to stop interfering in Iraq’s southern region and thereby sending the same message to Damascus.  Should Allawi win the Battle of Najaf, his prestige will resound throughout the capitals of the region, otherwise, if al-Sadr succeeds in making fool of him, Allawi’s legitimacy would be irreparably weakened....  The Bush administration has a direct interest in Allawi’s victory....  A stable Iraq in early November means a better chance when Americans go to vote for their new president.”


"Najaf On A Knife’s Edge"


Siegmund Ginzberg noted in pro-Democratic Left party (DS) daily L’Unità (8/20):  “Uncertainty...over Najaf has never been whether the U.S. war machine is able to wipe out the one-thousand militia of Mahdi’s shabby army, barricaded around Imam Ali’s sanctuary....  The credibility of Iyad Allawi’s provisional government is at stake, but with his reiterated ultimatums...he lost his first occasion to legitimize.  What makes him think that al-Sadr’s tattered militia represents a more dangerous threat for the future of Iraq than the former Baathist loyalists or the terrorist in Fallujah?  Or, in spite of any formal appearance of sovereignty...did Washington convince the provisional government...that ‘al-Sadr is not to be trusted,’ as NSA Condoleezza Rice said?”


RUSSIA: "A Bloodless Settlement To Help Sistani Get Rid Of Rival"


Leonid Gankin commented in business-oriented Kommersant (8/27): "Far from all Shiites in Iraq support radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr.  Many realize that, as they are holding defenses at Najaf, the militants are putting one of the principal Shia shrines at risk.   Others may think differently, seeing the defenders as a bunch of martyrs protecting a shrine from infidels....  Moqtada al-Sadr has more than once stated that he would only cede the shrine to his co-religionists with Ayatollah Sistani at the head. With Sistani back, he will have to leave.  This story may have far-reaching consequences for all interested parties.  To Moqtada al-Sadr, a bloodless settlement of the conflict would mean a crushing defeat from which he may never recover.  Conversely, Ayatollah Sistani would gain a national status, becoming a headache for the Americans, who bet on other leaders."


"Sistani The Peacemaker"


Aleksandr Timonin observed in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (8/27): "Sistani is known to have been opposed to foreign presence, which is not to say that he approves of violence in dealing with the occupation forces. While not sharing al-Sadr's radical stand, Sistani has to reckon with him as long as he enjoys widespread support inside the country."


"What's Left Of Iraq"


Mikhail Zygar contended in reformist weekly Vlast (8/23): "The fact that the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish Triangles are virtually separating from new Iraq will hardly explode the myth of that country being slowly but steadily democratized.   The Iyad Allawi interim government, parliament, police, and other attributes of a full-blooded state will function wherever the U.S. troops can protect them.  A similar situation is in Afghanistan where President Hamid Karzai, his security ensured by foreign troops, controls downtown Kabul, with field commanders in charge of the rest of the country. As field commanders from time to time fight wars among themselves, thecentral government is helpless to do anything about it.   The only difference is that, unlike Iraq, which has oil as the main source of income, Afghanistan has drugs.  Iraq has yet to get the hang of what Afghanistan has been through over the past few years: anarchy in the provinces will go away, replaced by leaders who will be independent of Kabul.  At the same time, the international community will hail the development of democratic institutions, with presidential and general elections scheduled for January. But the new democracy is going to be small and include protected sections of oil pipelines, the Green Zone in Baghdad, and possibly the Abu Ghraib prison."


"Al-Sadr Doesn't Keep His Word"


Yevgeniy Shestakov said on the front page of reformist Izvestiya (8/23): "Armed supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr continue to deny access to the Ali tomb for government troops.   Nor will they let in moderate Shia leaders in spite of agreements reached to date.   Al-Sadr lied again when he said that the militants would leave the place....   Disarming the Mahdi army remains to be the chief stumbling block in behind-the-scene negotiations between al-Sadr and the Iraqi government."


"The Price Of Freedom"


Yelena Suponina wrote in reformist Vremya Novostey (8/19):  "Referring to the (national) conference, the Americans called it a very important event.  It was supposed to show the Iraqis marching confidently to the sought-after sovereignty.  But the latest events, primarily the Moqtada al-Sadr revolt in the south, have marred the picture.  The situation remains very complicated....  Snuffing out the Shia unrest in Najaf does not mean averting a relapse of Sunni disturbances in Fallujah, near Baghdad."


AUSTRIA: "Sistani Tries A Stroke Of Genius"


Foreign affairs editor for liberal daily Der Standard Gudrun Harrer editorialized (8/27):  “Sistani’s action would be a stroke of genius--provided it succeeds. It cannot be overlooked that the decision to embark on this great ‘march’ towards Najaf, will also benefit him.… A risk remains though:  Neither the U.S army nor the Iraqi interim government are really in control of the situation. There will be further attempts at escalation by the radicals, and the Iraqi government harbors a strong desire to do away with the Sadr specter once and for all.… Actually, Sistani’s interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will use the opportunity to clear the table by ousting not just the Mehdi army but also all others, especially the Americans. This is politically unpleasant for them, but they are used to that kind of thing in Iraq.  After all, they are not turning the city over to a gang of radicals like in Falluja, but to Sistani who gave the government they installed a chance.  But Allawi will also in a way be saved - from himself. He would not have been able to survive a destroyed Imam Ali mosque politically.  On Thursday, he had no other choice than to defer to Sistani’s authority and send a ministerial delegation to welcome him on his return. One can be sure that Sistani will file his claims concerning elections in Baghdad in the near future."


"Bloody Legacy"


Foreign affairs editor Gudrun Harrer opined in liberal Der Standard (8/23):  “The resolution to the conflict around the Imam Ali-Mosque in Najaf, already announced for Friday, did not materialize over the weekend. The battle, news of which is largely kept from the public because few media representatives are on the battleground, continues to produce ‘martyrs’, a legacy which the Americans and the new Iraqi leadership will have to deal with for years to come.… It is not certain that his followers would support Moktada al-Sadr if he gave in. Perhaps that was what happened on Friday - that he was prepared to give up, but the Mehdi army, which by accounts is a loosely organized entity, was not. But on the other hand, the positions are not so clear-cut. The government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi likely only half-heartedly supported the National Conference’s attempts at brokering a deal with the Shiite leader. Allawi had to allow this to save the Conference. Only the fact that both events we re happening at the same time prevented a decisive military solution in Najaf. But the longer this situation continues, the clearer it emerges who actually calls the shots. While only a week ago people talked about Iraqi security forces, they now state clearly that it is the U.S army that is only a few hundred meters away from the Imam Ali Mosque."


BELGIUM:  "Sistani Will Have Obtained A Quid Pro Quo"


Foreign editor Gerald Papy in conservative Catholic La Libre Belgique commented (8/27): "The outcome that Shiite leader al-Sistani has negotiated in Iraq will have a price for the Iraqi government and its American protectors.  It boosts the power of this leader who.....has maintained his influence that is taken more and more into consideration.... History will show the quid pro quo that Grand Ayatollah Sistani has obtained for playing the role of providential savior in Najaf.  The religious leader's status as a mediator when the political and military camps are confronted with an obstacle in the Shiite community has been confirmed.  His reputation as an apolitical leader - for which there is no counterpart in the Kurdish and Sunnite communities - will certainly cause envy and resentment, especially now that the outcome in Najaf will not necessarily eliminate Moqtada al-Sadr's impact on the pacification process in Iraq.  To achieve that solution the religious extremist should first disarm his militia and transform it into a political movement that is willing to cooperate with the government."


DENMARK:  "Najaf Is A Social Issue"


Chief Middle East correspondent Herbert Pundik noted in center-left Politiken (8/23): “The battle for the control of Najaf is not a military problem and cannot be won by force.  The root of the problem is social.  We are currently experiencing the first signs of a social protest that will outlive al-Sadr.” 


"Inclusive Iraq Government"


Centrist Kristeligt Dagblad judged (8/23): “The Iraqi government ought to do everything to include militia leaders in the political dialogue.” 


FINLAND:  "Al-Sadr Is Not All Iraq"


Leading regional daily, right-of-center Aamulehti held (8/24):  "Which of the developments is  more true.  Last week, the Iraqi national convention was able to elect an interim parliament.  At the same time insurgents continue their fighting in Najaf. Iraq has stabilized somewhat since Iyad  Allawi's government took over.  The government can even consider it a slight victory that it has been able to contain the fighting in an ever smaller area.   Not all Shiites back al-Sadr -- some would like to give the government a chance."


HUNGARY: "They Would Protect Ali’s Thumb With Their Own Body"


Foreign affairs writer  Hesna Al Ghaoui observed in in top circulation Nepszabadsag (8/25): “Ninety-five million Shiite are watching worldwide whether the thumb of Imam Ali, the Shiite’s first and most important religious leader, remains untouched or not. Najaf has become the [pilgrimage] destination of the dead too. Under the walls of the city, more dead are said to be resting than in any other burial places of the world. The Shiite world is anxious about the presence of foreign soldiers on this piece of land. The Sunnis also recognize the Imam a caliph. Many Sunni leaders also urged that the Mosque be protected. It is therefore understandable that events, such as gun-fight around the Mausoleum can be interpreted as a jeopardy to the unique heritage.  The Holy See indicated last week  that it was also ready to mediate in this very tense situation with the aim to prevent a clash that could have unpredictable consequences. Even a civil war can break out. Or anything else can happen.” 


NORWAY: "The Fighting In Najaf Is A Defeat"


The newspaper-of-record Aftenposten commented (8/24):  "The long-lasting fights and the unresolved situation in Iraq is a growing burden for President George W. Bush. His reference to political progress and to the planned elections early next year loses credibility when the new government cannot get a grip on the country’s problems.  What we see in Iraq are groups and people struggling for power when the United States withdraws. It is exactly this uncertainty around when this is going to happen, and what the actual conditions for this type of withdrawal are, that contributes to keeping the struggle alive.  And it is a struggle that is still led more with loaded weapons than with vote slips - quite the contrary of the promises of a democratic Iraq.”


POLAND:  "Al-Sadr’s Dodge"


Tomasz Bielecki opined in liberal Gazeta Wyborcza (8/19):  “Has Moqtada al-Sadr lost?  Not at all.  Pushed to the wall, he dodged and agreed to negotiate.  Thanks to the ineptitude of politicians connected with the United States and al-Sadr’s blind anti-Americanism, he has already become one of the most popular Iraqi Shiites.  No wonder he demands more influence on those who rule....  Is it the end of the Shia rebellion?  Not at all.  Soon we will hear about a third and a fourth rebellion by al-Sadr followers.  A fight at the negotiation table, supplemented by a street fight with Kalashnikovs as 'arguments' is a Middle East specialty.  This peaceful-wartime consultation stands the best chance to end in a compromise, [to] civilize Moqtada and bring him into the world of real politics.  How to the help the Iraqi people do that?  It is best not to interfere.  Let them negotiate and fight with al-Sadr on their own.”


SPAIN:  "Sistani's Force"


Left-of-center El País wrote (8/27): "An assault on Ali's mausoleum, directly or indirectly through Iraqi forces, would have caused an uprising by all the Shiites.  But not to do anything would have sent a message of weakenss from the U.S. and the interim government.  In this situation, Sistani's return, more than being providential, was induced.  But this step makes clear a certain impotence of the U.S., whose representatives have never received Sistani since the invasion....  The fight in Najaf has been not only between al-Sadr and the U.S. and the new interim government, but among Shiites fighting for power in the future Iraq." 


"Ayatollah Sistani's Double Game"


Independent El Mundo held (8/27): "It's paradoxical that the U.S. has entrusted to the hands of a religious leader like Sistani the control of the disturbance.  Nobody in Washington expected at the beginning of the war that the main pitfall for Iraqi pacification would be the Shiites, the main victims of Saddam's cruelty. But the awful management of the postwar and al-Sadr's appearance have made it so that the U.S. has stepped into a sticky wad of chewing gum which it can't get clear of."


"Najaf, Crossroads For Iraq" 


Conservative ABC stated (8/26): "In the fight to control Najaf, there is only one acceptable result:  Al-Sadr's defeat and the disbanding of his militia....This messianic priest without prestige in the Shiite looking for a civil war between Shiites and for the destabilization of the interim Iraqi institutions....  al-Sadr's violence is not legitimate but purely terrorist....Although it seems a contradiction, al-Sadr's disturbance is a consequence not of the foreign military presence in Iraq, but rather of the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, who for decades buried with blood and fire any dissidence. What motivates this priest's ambitions is the expectation that a democratic and representative power can be established in Iraq.  Al-Sadr's state model looks to the fundamentalist Republic of Iran instead of democracy as far as individual freedom is concerned....  Tactical mistakes by the U.S. in the postwar, with the horror of Abu Ghraib foremost among them, have also fomented the visceral support...that al-Sadr receives from the most disadvantaged social sectors and those most sensitive to nationalist addresses.  But if Washington can be reproached for anything, it is for not having put an end to al-Sadr's disturbance earlier....  Even though European anti-Americanism rejoices at Al-Sadr - as it does with anything that opposes the U.S. - his defeat is necessary to iron out the road to democracy in Iraq."


"Najaf As An 'Internal Matter'"


Conservative La Razon wrote (8/25): "Allawi is managing to resolve one of the potentially most dangerous crises for Iraq's future stability.  And he is managing it with an undeniable skill, combining the military power of the Americans with the political offensive that 'nationalizes' the fight with the rebel preacher....  If, during this last negotiation, he achieves the surrender of al-Sadr's followers without bloodshed and the submission of the shrine to representatives of the moderate Shiites, he will have a very important hand for the future."

"The City Of Najaf"


Editor Jose Antonio Vera asserted in conservative La Razon (8/23): "Najaf was a city punished by Saddam during years. In fact, the citizens of Najaf should be devoted to the U.S. forces, that liberated them from the yoke of the tyrant.  But they don't seem to be devoted.  One part of them has rebelled against the U.S.  And we don't really know why. Or perhaps we do. It may be because the U.S. has not had the ability to give them the confidence that they are asking for."


"The Earthquake In Nayaf Shakes Muslim World"


Independent El Mundo stated (8/21): "The pact with Sistani can be the beginning of the calming down of a crisis skillfully used by al-Sadr.... His behavior has been unpredictable up to now and is still a cause for concern. It's less probable that he will want to or he be able to renew his movement into a political it's foreseeable that his confrontation with the allies and the interim Government will continue sinking the country in anxiety....  The invasion of Iraq not only hasn't pacified Iraq, but has caused a continuous source of problems in a strategic region.  The serious crisis of Najaf has taken away credibility from the interim government.  With the problem of this conflict, the expected calendar of elections in January 2005 seems an incredible fiction. Much more real are the deaths in Najaf, whose citizens now should be  thinking in voting and not in following a preacher who only advocates combat and martyrdom." 


TURKEY:  "Iraq Moves Toward National Resistance"


Hasan Unal argued in Islamist-intellectual Zaman (8/27): “The current situation in Iraq shows a clear miscalculation by the U.S. side.  Even in the beginning, there were no Iraqis to greet U.S. forces with roses and cheers.  The U.S. plan to bring democracy to Iraq is also far from convincing.  This is an act of occupation, which is losing international support with every passing day.… The growing resistance in Iraq is beginning to look like a national movement.  It has the potential to begin a trend toward nationalization throughout the Arab world.  It is quite possible to see a nationalist process in all of the Arab countries, especially if and when the US launches its Greater Middle East and North Africa project.… Unlike the Balkans, the concepts of the nation state and nationhood did not take root in the Middle East geography.  The Arab countries became independent in the post-World War II period, but very few of them fought for independence like Algeria did against the French.  Nationalist feelings were always suspended under totalitarian regimes.  But there are now signs that a national resistance movement, taking advantage of the U.S. weakness in Iraq, might change the fate of the Middle East.”


"Underestimating The Shiites"


Hakan Celik commented in mass-appeal sensational Posta (8/27): “The U.S. has made many miscalculations about Iraq.  The underestimation of the Shi'ite resistance is one of the biggest ones.  U.S. forces are having a very hard time controlling the Najaf uprising.  The loss of civilian lives because of American operations there is certainly a major reason for the growing outrage among Shiites.  The worst part is the fact that the outrage is not limited to militants, but extends to ordinary Iraqis as well.  American forces continue their operations near sacred Shiite shrines, which is a big risk.  Shiite militants are also capable of trapping the Americans by dragging them toward the sacred areas so that they manage to provoke more Iraqis against US forces.  The current American image in Iraq is very negative, and includes the perception that U.S. forces are willing to bomb shrines and mosques in pursuit of their goals.  This is a very ominous development for Washington.”


"The U.S. Is Finished In Iraq”


Fatih Altayli argued in mass-appeal Hurriyet (8/26):  “The influence of Ayatollah Sistani in the Shiite community is very important.  Al-Sadr’s capacity to lead a popular resistance is also significant.  The main difference between the two is in terms of approach: Sistani has advocated a temporary collaboration with the U.S., while al-Sadr has stood for violent struggle.  Sistani has retained his influence within the Shiite community, but the development of al-Sadr’s resistance and the U.S. response has helped Al-Sadr to become more powerful than Sistani.  The mistakes of the U.S. have clearly created fertile ground for the more radical figure and weakened moderate leaders like Sistani.… Considering the current situation, Sistani is now changing his tone as well.  He has called on Shiites to march on Najaf and to support al-Sadr’s group.  This is going to make things even tougher for the U.S.  Finishing the job in Iraq will be very difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. now.  Turkey should formulate its Iraq policy by taking into account the fact that the U.S. is mired in a serious quagmire.” 


"Iraq And U.S. Mistakes"


Ferai Tinc observed in mass-appeal Hurriyet (8/23): “It seems impossible for the coalition or the Iraqis to gain control of the situation in Najaf, whether through political or military means.  The CIA-sponsored Iraqi leader Allawi comes from an influential and powerful Iraqi family, but even he has failed to bring the situation under control.  The Najaf resistance was initially presented as a terrorist group.  Time has now shown that it is a popular resistance movement.  This is only one of many mistakes made in Iraq, including the miscalculations of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi opposition.  The U.S. provided all kinds of support to Ahmad Chalabi.  When the mistake was realized, it was already too late.  Support for Iranian-backed Al-Hakim was another big mistake.  The people of Iraq preferred an independent Shiite figure, i.e. Sadr, as opposed to the Iranian-backed Hakim.… Iraq is rapidly toward a period in which more conflicts are  likely.  Looking for ways to establish a balance in the current situation is very difficult.  There is no authority in Iraq that can unite the complex interests of all groups   Can the U.S. be this authority?  It is far too late for that.  American military forces cannot even establish full control over Baghdad, yet alone set up a lasting political structure.”      


"Conquering Hearts And Minds"


Ali Aslan wrote from Washington in Islamist-intellectual Zaman (8/23): “The Bush administration sees many similarities between the Cold War and the ongoing war against terrorism.   However, the US has failed to invest politically, intellectually and financially on this issue.  NSC Adviser Rice recently gave examples of how bright Americans who spoke Russian and other languages in the region were influential in the process of the demise of Soviet Union.  Yet today, Washington does not have a single government expert who knows Islamic culture well and speaks regional languages.  This goes for prominent American universities as well. … Rice also mentioned the administration’s efforts to focus more on non-military issues such as tolerance, acceptance of the other, and encouraging political participation of community representatives.  The problem is that this approach remains on paper, because the military and security effort continues to dominate. … The US should start begin trying to win hearts and minds in the Islamic world.  Otherwise its policies, which have taken into account only terrorism and fanaticism, are doomed to fail.”


"Regarding Iraq, The Address For Turkey Is Washington, Not Baghdad"


Zafer Atay wrote in the political-economic Dunya (8/20):  “The visit of Iraqi interim President Al-Yawer to Ankara failed to meet Ankara’s high hopes on issues like the fight against the PKK in northern Iraq, the status of Kirkuk, the Turkomen problem, and the oil-for-exports trade deal.  The visit ended with zero gain for Ankara.  We found an Iraqi figure ready [to listen to] our requests and proposals, but one who refrained from making any commitments....  In order to understand the reality, we should first look at the status of Iraq.  Despite the ‘transfer of sovereignty,’ Iraq is still under occupation.  The U.S. still has the full control over political and military authority in the country.  Thus Turkey’s requests should be addressed to Washington, not to the Iraqi administration.  Washington now has enough trouble in Iraq, and has neither the time nor the enthusiasm to listen to our requests.  Moreover, it is not in the U.S. interest to meet Turkish demands.  The Bush administration is trying to arrange a three-way federation system in Iraq--Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the Baghdad area, and Shiites in the south.  Washington does not want to see Ankara in this picture, knowing that Turkey is against this American plan for Iraq’s future.”




WEST BANK:  "The Najaf Curse!!!"


Samih Shbayb asserted in independent Al-Ayyam (8/27): “Sistani’s action this time is an attempt to absorb Muqtada Sadr’s authority even if this is at the expense of the sustainability of Allawi’s government’s and his defense minister.  The initiative now is in the hands of Muqtada Sadr who seems to be wise and strict.... Thus, Sadr is expected to accept Sistani’s initiative through a pleasant public reconciliation that would also demand that the attackers, including the Americans and their agents in the interim Iraqi government, be held accountable.  With regard to Sadr’s new position, the Iraqi Shi’ites will increasingly embrace the view that fighting and resisting the American occupier are a must and that problems can then be solved [internally] without any foreign influence.  As a result, who is the winner and who is the loser in the Najaf war, and on whom has the curse fallen?


SAUDIA ARABIA:  "Iraq At A Crossroads"


Abha’s moderate Al-Watan editorialized (8/26):  "It seems that the security forces in Iraq, supported by U.S. military arsenal, have not been able to control the situation in Iraq.  No solution has been found, and no political initiatives have been undertaken to resolve the crisis.  Instead, only conditions have been set without real action.  This is what has shaken the credibility of these forces, and that of the foreign forces that support them.  This deterioration in security conditions has led Al-Sistani to come back as a rescuer.  His initiative will give religious groups power over their political counterparts.  We are waiting to learn about the initiative of Al-Sistani.  We are waiting to see what will happen in Iraq, and what will be the fate of the multi national coalition that has obviously lost control of the situation."


"Dialogue, Not Fighting"


Jeddah’s moderate Okaz editorialized (8/25):  "Iraqis must wake up and realize that they need to replace the fighting with dialogue.  They should respect the new government and get involved in a peaceful political dialogue despite obstacles.  National unity is the only weapon that would keep Iraq steadfast against its challenges and enemies.  Iraqis should not waste this chance.  We call upon all Iraqis to put their guns down and arm themselves with wisdom and logic instead.  Otherwise their country will become a battlefield."


"The War Of Najaf"


Jeddah’s conservative Al-Madina editorialized (8/22):  "U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice addressed the U.S. Institute of Peace and discussed her country’s determination to exert every effort to improve its image and develop its relations with the Islamic world.  This talk actually conflicts with the tragic events of Najaf.  We mean the ongoing attacks against the holy sites of Najaf and its dwellers that took the lives of several hundred innocent civilian people.  The generals of the Pentagon are committing a grave mistake when they view military escalation as an ideal and appropriate solution to end the crisis of Najaf....  The U.S. cannot improve its image, neither in Iraq nor in the larger Islamic and Arab worlds, except through an end to the use of force to impose a de facto situation on a nation under occupation.  The U.S. administration must develop a timetable to withdraw from Iraq."


"The Desired Stability In Iraq"


Dammam’s moderate Al-Yaum opined (8/22):  "Iraqi citizens must support every action taken by the interim Iraqi government to reduce the circle of fighting in Iraqi cities and to stop the ongoing bloodshed. These steps will enable the government to take the nation out of the current complicated crisis to become a secure and stable country. The U.N is required also to assist the interim government to meet its political obligations and to rebuild the country."  


ALGERIA:  "Between Buddha And Imam Ali" 


Arabic-language, large-circulation El Khabar editorialized (8/22):  “When the Afghan Talibans threatened to destroy the statue of Buddha erected in one of the rocky mountains in Afghanistan, there was a general outcry from Western countries, and even the Arabs, who are known to overdo it in issues appealing to the West, were the first to denounce, condemn, and even threaten.  Today, U.S. tanks and planes have transformed the historical and holy city of Najaf into rubble and ruins, even though it is full of inhabitants and not a remote statue in a mountain.  Yet America considers this to be very normal since it comes as part of a war waged against a ‘terrorist’ named Moktada al-Sadr.... Is Buddhism more important than Islam, or Buddha more important than Imam Ali?”


BAHRAIN:  "Attacks On al-Sadr...Are Only Making Him More Popular"


The official English-language Daily Tribune observed (Internet Version, 8/22):  "Shiite fighters are still in control of the holy shrine in Najaf after Iraq’s interim government said it had overcome a bloody uprising by seizing the Imam Ali Mosque without a shot being fired. Police in Najaf said they did not control the site, Iraq’s holiest Shiite Muslim shrine....   It is obvious that the U.S.-led coalition feels threatened by al-Sadr and his militia and wants to eliminate them. The reasons are obvious. Washington wants a docile, pro-U.S. government in Baghdad after elections. The biggest obstacle to the creation of a compliant, pro-American regime in Iraq has been the fact that the Shiites, who make up about 60 per cent of Iraq’s population, could elect a majority government that could and if united would defy U.S. wishes. Therefore Washington realises that elections are too risky....  The only leaders who carry a lot of weight with Iraqi Shiites are the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and al-Sadr. The grand ayatollah agreed with the coalition that he would guarantee that the Shiites would remain peaceful if the U.S. ensures free elections in Iraq early next year. But al-Sadr, being a young firebrand leader, worried the coalition and to guarantee that he would not try to spoil Washington’s plans, the U.S. jumped the gun and began attacking al-Sadr. The U.S. occupation authorities closed down Sadr's newspaper....  Sadr took his militia to the Najaf and defied the Americans. Young Shiites rose in revolt in Baghdad’s Sadr City suburb and the cities of the south, and hundreds died before the U.S. command negotiated a truce.  By the time the truce took effect al-Sadr was famous across Iraq....  The Americans even ordered the media out of Najaf so that they will not be witness to the forthcoming clashes.  By resorting to attacks to eliminate al-Sadr and his militia they are only making him more popular and more powerful within the Shiite community.  By eliminating al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army the U.S. will lose any hope it has of bringing in the kind of government favourable to the U.S."


LEBANON:  "Sistani's Triumphant Return Must Serve All Iraqis"


An editorial in the moderate English-language Daily Star contended (8/27):  "What a difference legitimacy makes. Those still harboring any doubts need only view Thursday's footage of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq. Just weeks after having been forced to leave Iraq in order to undergo heart treatment in England, the widely respected spiritual leader's return has inspired a dramatic outpouring of public support, one literally coursing through the streets.... In Sistani's absence, Moqtada al-Sadr's loyalists slugged it out with the U.S.-led coalition at the Imam Ali Mosque, while legitimacy-challenged Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and newly installed national assembly members groped about in the dark for a palatable political alternative. The multitudes with Sistani are not adequately represented by any of these figureheads or power brokers. Rather, those in the streets are disenchanted, weary and hungry for peaceful national development. What can Sistani do to help deliver it for them? In the hours and days ahead, his calming presence may well assist in the peaceful resolution of the struggle over Najaf. Longer-term successes in conducting elections and engendering an atmosphere of stability are decidedly less certain. What remains clear, though, is that Sistani is the best catalyst for the job. Influential yet without political ambition, religious yet non-sectarian, the very characteristics of Sistani's person are a perfect fit for a national character not yet fully democratic, but also aware of the need to coalesce around a new, inclusive conception of what it means to be Iraqi. So far, all the progress made toward this end has been achieved erratically, and has been subject to sudden interruptions at the hands of extremists and reactionaries. Fresh from the repair of his own heart, Sistani's charge now is to assist in making the procession of these advancements beat more reliably, and more resoundingly."


QATAR:  "There Is Nothing Radical About Iraq’s Rebel Cleric"


The semi-official English language Gulf Times ran a piece by Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi which was published in London's center-left Independent (Internet Version, 8/25):  "The standoff in Najaf has cast the spotlight on the rebel Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. While the Western media cannot resist calling him ‘radical’, it is in fact very difficult to find any basis for this description. He has been consistent in his staunch opposition to the occupation of Iraq. 'There can be no politics under occupation, no freedom under occupation, no democracy under occupation,' he said this month. What is so radical about that?... While death and insecurity reigned after Baghdad fell, Sadr supporters took control of many aspects of life in the Shia sectors, appointing clerics to mosques, guarding hospitals, collecting garbage, operating orphanages, and supplying food to Iraqis hit by the hardships of war....  Even through armed resistance to occupation, Sadr has stuck to well-defined limits. He has denied involvement in car bombings and assassinations; he denounced the attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad....  Sadr’s condemnation of the interim Prime Minster Iyad Allawi and his dismissal of the June ‘handover of power’ as a farce is justified. Nor has Allawi’s heavy-handed, compliant rule gone down well with most of the Iraqi population — a recent poll showed his approval rating at just 2%, tied with Saddam Hussein.... Sadr is also prepared to disband his army and form a political party to contest next January’s elections. The fact that some Iraqi leaders are ignoring a decree passed by Allawi’s government and have invited Sadr into the political process reflects the recognition that, like him or not, he is too powerful and popular a figure to marginalise. Calling Sadr ‘radical’ is not only a misrepresentation of his policies, it is an insult to all those who oppose foreign occupation and domination, religious in-fighting and regional instability. One does not have to be Shia, Iraqi, Arab or ‘radical’ to see that."


SYRIA: "Within The Framework Of Exaggeration"


Mohamed Khair al-Jamali, an editorialist in government-owned Al-Thawra, wrote (8/26):  "At the time President Bush was talking about making progress in Iraq, two U.S. military said that the U.S. army need ten year to conquer Iraqi resistance....  President Bush's statement comes within the framework of exaggeration which was adopted by the U.S. to justify war on Iraq when Iraqi was accused of possessing WMD and of having links with al-Qaida and threatening U.S. national interests....  The progress of U.S. forces in Najaf was caused by their policy of 'torched land' and using internationally prohibited weapons. This made the Italian 'Green Party' describe the U.S. army operation against the Najaf people as mass extermination, which is considered according to international law a crime against humanity that should be punished."


"Strategy Of Occupation"


Izziddin Darwish, an editorialist in government-owned Tishreen, commented (8/25):  "The U.S. has no interest in seeing security and stability in Iraq....  In fact occupation forces are the main cause of all that is taking place in Iraq.... It is no exaggeration to say that politicians and organizers of the U.S. presidential campaigns are competing in the Iraqi arena and placing their wagers on the Iraqi people's blood. Such talk can be proved by facts on the ground.  The U.S. military today is talking about many security problems and raising the use of military might to solve these problems, especially in Najaf, without giving a damn about the spiritual importance of this city for Iraqis and Muslims. They did the same thing in Fallujah, which they have turned into a city of ghosts....  Americans are deliberately striking the national unity of the Iraqi people and placing their bet on this... The first means for occupiers is to create rifts among occupied people in accordance with the imperial concept: divide and rule." 


"Occupation Rejects A Peaceful Solution In Najaf"


Ahmad Dawwa, an editorialist in government-owned Al-Thawra, commented (8/20):  "It was not unlikely for the U.S. Administration to reject or cast doubt on Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr's acceptance of the plan that the Iraqi National Conference offered to end the serious crisis in Al-Najaf. It deliberately fabricated the crisis to realize political objectives at home and abroad, and it does not want Al-Sadr or any other Iraqi, no matter what his political standing and under any circumstances, to obstruct its plans in this respect.  Given these established facts, the US National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice's statements, in which she said she does not trust Muqtada al-Sadr, and expressed interest in seeing the interim Iraqi government running Iraq's affairs, bring nothing new....  The U.S. Administration is not sincere or serious in its claim that it is allowing the Iraqi government to run the affairs of the Iraqi people, as Rice suggested in her remarks. If that were the case, The U.S. Administration would not have interfered in the initiative that the Iraqi National Conference offered to resolve the Al-Najaf crisis, an initiative that was formulated in coordination with the government. This means that the United States, as an occupying power, has not given up its hegemony over Iraqi political decisions when it comes to its authority and future plans for Iraq....  In light of this American position toward the Iraqi government's willingness to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Al-Najaf and Al-Sadr's acceptance of a relevant initiative, the influential Iraqi parties, particularly the Iraqi government, should take into consideration the motives of the American rejection of a peaceful solution in Al-Najaf."


"The Method Is the Same"


Samir al-Shibani wrote in government-owned Tishreen (8/21):  "Some news media, including an Israeli newspaper, have recently reported that American forces in Iraq receive training in guerrilla warfare in an Israeli military base....   Any scrutiny of the American practices against the Iraqi people would show that they are largely similar to the Israeli practices against the Palestinian people... What is happening in Al-Najaf is just an echo of the siege on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It reminds us of the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Iraqi heritage was stolen in much the same way Israel is stealing the Palestinian heritage.... The torture methods in Abu-Ghraib prison are the same as the methods used in the prisons of Ashkelon, Shatta, and Jalbu. In brief, many observers believe that the American-Israeli cooperation will only tarnish the image of the United States even further."




AUSTRALIA:  "Fighting For The Soul Of Iraq"


An editorial in the national conservative Australian stated (8/23): “Iraq, yet again, seems to be at a tipping point. For three weeks the so-called Mehdi Army of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has refused to relinquish control of the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, one of the holiest Shi'ite sites in the world…. If the situation can be resolved without a full-scale assault on Iraq's holiest place by the US marines, that will not only prevent a massive loss of life but also a possible sympathetic uprising by more moderate and secular Shi'ite elements…. Unfortunately Najaf is far from being the only centre of remaining unrest and violence in Iraq. But it is the focus, and symbolizes the choice between Islam and Islamism, as well as highlighting the fact Iraq's interim Government, despite the 120,000 foreign troops at its disposal, does not have security anywhere near under control. But the siege of Najaf will end, whether by negotiation or force, and its immediate aftermath could be decisive for the emerging democratic Iraq.”


CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Settling Iraq...Is A Path Beset With Difficulties"


Independent Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal wrote in an editorial (8/21):  "Political measures that are being used to settle the Iraqi issue will need a long time to prove if they will be successful.  The pressing task at the moment is to resume the basic order in Iraq.  Experts estimate that at least 300,000 peacekeeping troops are needed to resume the basic order in Iraq.  The U.S.-British coalition forces currently stationed in Iraq do not meet half of the required number.  Bush announced that he would withdraw military in Europe and Asia and redeploy U.S. global military strength.  However, the whole plan will take ten years time to finish and will only begin in 2006.  A slow remedy cannot meet the urgent demands.  Thus, the plan will not help settling the Iraqi issue.  Overthrowing the Saddam regime in a month time, the U.S. encountered no difficulty militarily.  However, when Saddam was gone, the national and religious clashes, which have been hidden for over 20 years, suddenly erupted.  The U.S. could not find any way out.  Relying simply on its powerful military strength to suppress riots will, of course, be invincible.  However, this can only stop riots temporarily and will not get at the root of the problem.  Oil prices may drop and the stock market may rise after the fighting in Najaf stops.  However, it won't last long."


JAPAN: "Use The National Conference As Momentum For Democratization"


Top-circulation moderate-conservative Yomiuri editorialized (8/21): "The democratization process in Iraq has moved forward following the recent National Conference and the creation of an interim national council.  However, the situation in Iraq is far from optimistic.  Iraqi government leaders need to be patient in their rebuilding efforts because hasty endeavors could worsen the fluid domestic political situation.  The security situation in the war-torn nation must improve in order to encourage further commitment from the U.N.  The international body's support for the upcoming elections in Iraq is indispensable for the local democratization process.  The global community must also extend necessary assistance to Iraq's vulnerable political process."


"Can Iraq Prepare For Elections?"


A liberal Asahi editorialized (8/20):  "Holding elections is a critical step toward stability and democracy in Iraq.  The poll must be fair and legitimate with the right to vote ensured by maintaining safety at voting booths.  Improving domestic safety is indispensable for a national referendum....  Hard-liners opposed to the U.S. occupation and the transitional government also need to be included in the political process.  The government's acceptance of U.S. military operations against anti-American rebels has resulted in unleashing further violence.  The government must engage in dialogue with dissenting parties and urge the U.S. military to exercise restraint."


"Tough Road Ahead For Stability"


Business-oriented Nikkei argued (8/20):  "We cannot claim that the conclusion of the National Conference in Iraq signals a giant leap toward stability for the nation.  Militia supporters of radical Shiite cleric al-Sadr are still fighting as other armed Sunni and foreign guerrillas continue their activities.  Restoring security will be a long-term task for Iraq....  We hope that the national conference gave locals an opportunity to share a sense of responsibility for the rebuilding of their damaged homeland."


INDONESIA:  "All-Out War In Iraq"


Independent afternoon daily Suara Pembaruan noted (8/26): “It was predicted earlier that the guerilla war and open opposition in Iraq would only be launched by the Sunnis, the Baath militia and remnants of the pro-Saddam forces.…  In fact, the chaos in the Sunni triangle (Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi) has spread to Najaf, Basra and the Shiite dominated area in southern Iraq.…  We view that Muqtada is seeking to provoke U.S. forces into an all out war, and he is aware that the U.S. will find it difficult to win a guerilla war.  Victims would fall from the two sides, which in turn would draw world sympathy, especially condemnation from the international community.  Indeed, there have been protests over the siege of the Imam Ali Mosque by 93 leaders from 30 Muslim countries including Indonesia.”


"Crisis In U.S. Public Diplomacy" 


Leading independent Kompas in an op-ed piece by Muhamad Ali of Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University commented (8/26):  “The attacks by U.S. forces in Najaf for the past weeks demonstrated that George Bush’s policy of fighting global terrorism has failed to gain support from the Muslim World.  The ‘freedom and democracy’ motto in Iraq has been seen as mere lip service.… In order to regain the lost trust in U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. must first involve wise U.S. religious leaders in looking into problems in inter-faith relations. There are quite a lot of inclusive leaders among Catholics, Protestants and Jews who should be invited to take a role in U.S. public diplomacy.  If not, the U.S. would go alone and fail to use its own intellectual assets....  Cultural and educational exchange programs must be massively conducted, not merely as a complement to the military programs. It is a pity that militarism prevails over intellectualism in U.S. foreign policy.”


"Struggle Of Al-Sadr 'Dynasty'"


Independent Indo Pos of Surabaya, in an op-ed piece by a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) Riza Sihbudi, commented (8/23): “In one of his Friday sermons in Najaf in 1999, Ayatollah Al-Sadr stated loudly: ‘Say no. Say no to America. Say no to Israel. No and no to imperialism!’  Make no mistake.  He was not Ayatollah Muqtada Al-Sadr but Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Muqtada’s father.  He was killed by the Republican Guards, who were loyal to Saddam Hussein in 1999.  Some 20 years earlier, in 1980, prominent Shiite leader and philosopher Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir Al-Sadr had been killed by Saddam regime.  He was Muqtada’s uncle.… Muqtada and his Al Mahdi warriors are now fighting between life and death against the U.S. occupational forces in Iraq, Najaf in particular.  In military terms, they are not comparable with the U.S. and allied forces.  But with a strong martyrdom doctrine among the Shiites and the jihad spirit of Muqtada and his warriors make the U.S. military and its lackeys scared.  To them, the U.S. is no different from the Saddam regime. Even in Muqtada’s eye, the U.S. is more uncivilized than Saddam.  Saddam respected sacred places, but the U.S. does not.”   


SINGAPORE:  "Fixing Iraq And The Oil Price"


The pro-government Business Times opined (8/26):  "It was inevitable that the battle for Najaf...and the various bombings and assassinations that wrack daily life in Iraq would eclipse any development on Iraq's political front.  But it would equally be true to say that the formation of the 100-person interim assembly that would putatively oversee the affairs of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government was not of any great moment either.... Truth be told, it looks like a re-run of the way Mr. Allawi's interim government was itself formed.... If it were only a matter of forming a future Iraqi government with a semblance of legitimacy, the world might be tempted to look on in wry amusement at these antics. But the economies of many nations hang in the balance because of events in Iraq. Although crude oil prices have retreated from the record highs of nearly US$50 a barrel, they are still painfully high. Everyone has a stake in Iraq. Most of the world's big oil-producing countries are working their pumps to the hilt and there is little capacity to adjust if any o ne of the big producers stops its exports for any reason at all.... But the major factor in today's high oil price remains Iraq. Ever since American troops captured Baghdad in April 2003, insurgents have targeted Iraq's oil industry.... The responsibility for public order in Iraq rests with the U.S. and the rest of the occupying coalition. They must nudge the political process in a manner that psychologically outflanks the insurgency and starts the build-up of institutions for good governance. Last week's show contributes very little towards this end." 




INDIA: "Outlook In Iraq"


An editorial in the August 25 pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer put forth (8/25):  "The fierceness with which fighting has resumed at Najaf, provides continuous reminder that Iraq's new interim assembly, National Council, elected by a National Conference that met in Baghdad from August 16 to 18, to supervise the Government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, has a rough road ahead. One needs to be very optimistic indeed to hope that the promise of accountability in governance the development holds out, as well as the prospect of elections in January, will lead to a tapering of violence....   Things will become even more difficult for the U.S. and the Allawi Government if the fighting at Najaf does significant damage to the Imam Ali mosque, the holiest of holy shrine for Shias. On the other hand, success in evicting the Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army from there without such a disaster will not by itself, make a decisive change in the overall picture.  The U.S. must prepare for a long haul. Hasty retreat from Iraq will only boost the morale of fundamentalist Islamist terrorists who will feel encouraged to launch further strikes against fortress America itself."


"Crisis In Najaf" 


An editorial in Mumbai-based Marathi-language right-of-center Marathi Turan Bharat noted (8/24):  "The ongoing confrontation between rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia and the  U.S. army has assumed alarming proportions.  The situation there has gone out of hand mainly because the U.S.armed forces, stationed near Najaf's golden-domed shrine, have yielded their control to the U.S. marines. The marines have resorted to indiscriminate firing without taking the US army top brass into confidence.  The standoff in Najaf is essentially a clash between al-Sadr and Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Alawi.  Instead of negotiating peace between these warring groups in Iraq, the U.S. has used its marines to silence al-Sadr's Mahdi army.  Al-Sadr has skillfully 'used' this U. S. marine action to sway the local sentiments against the U.S. forces.... America needs to change its policy in Najaf as it cannot afford bloodshed in the Imam Ali shrine. It also needs to grant some representation to al-Sadr's rebel group in the transitional government currently ruling Iraq."


"Iraq: Where Death Is Cheaper Than Life"


Khalid Sheikh penned the following in independent Urdu-language Inquilab (8/19):  "Iraq is not only facing the slaughtering of its people by the American occupation forces even for the most insignificant reasons together with fierce struggle for freedom by the patriots and the total anarchy prevailing all around, the country is also the target of organized efforts to promote Christianity and American culture of nudity and vulgarity. Christian missionaries are working in the guise of aid workers and distributing evangelical literature along with food and medical aid. On the other hand, the educational curriculum is being systematically being doctored in order to alienate people from religion....  What Iraq is now going through is only a replay of what Britain had done in the past speaking the same lies of liberating the people of the country.  The only difference this time is that it is a joint invasion by the US-UK combine. The interim government led by the agents of the invaders has neither the credibility nor the capacity whatsoever to make thins better in the country. The people of Iraq are bravely fighting the invaders as they did in the past to get rid of the foreign occupation. Iraq will not calm down unless and until the occupation forces leave."


PAKISTAN: "Situation In Najaf And Our Insensitivity" 


An editorial in the Karachi-based, right-wing, pro-Islamic unity Urdu-language Jasarat railed (8/24):  "The shrine of Hazrat Ali is reverent for all the Muslims but the Catholic forces are bent upon causing harm to it.  It is being alleged that miscreants are taking shelter in the shrine.  Ironically the definition of miscreants has changed.  It is just to occupy any independent country; it is democratic to kill women, children and old; it is legitimate to throw humans before dogs but it is terrorism, aggression and violence to fight for the independence and sovereignty of one's country."




CANADA: "America Winning Battle, Losing The war"


Editorial page editor emeritus Haroon Siddiqui maintained in the liberal Toronto Star (8/26): "Al-Sadr may yet be saved by, of all people, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior-most cleric, who has been unhappy with his tactics. Sistani is a 'quietist' who shuns politics and speaks elliptically. He has been criticized for failing to condemn the U.S. military attack.Returning yesterday from London after heart surgery, he is to lead a peace march in Najaf today to help find a face-saving exit for both sides. If he fails, al-Sadr may yet be killed. Should that happen, he will live on to inspire others. If he isn't, he will not disband his militia, regardless of what he promises. It will just melt back into whence it came - the poor, angry and unemployed population - and re-emerge whenever the next call comes. Regardless of how this battle ends, America has already lost the war."


ARGENTINA: "Iraq: Confusing Withdrawal From Najaf"


Leading Clarin stated (8/21) "Religious man Muqtada al-Sadr, the most relevant figure of Iraq's resistance against allied occupation, abandoned yesterday - without firing a single bullet, though amid an extremely confusing situation - the mosque of Imam Ali, in Najaf, which had been occupied for weeks. According to announcements by the rebels, the place would be turned over to a representative of ayatollah Sistani, the maximum Shiite leader, an old man of moderate views who doesn't approve of the fight led by Sadr. But last night, it wasn't at all clear what was happening in that place. There seemed to be less battles, but the militia remained in place. There were no arrests, as reported by the interim local government. The truth is that these clashes, which included the bombing of an oil pipe to the north and the burning of the offices of an oil company, led to the sharp rise in the price of crude oil, which hit 50 dollars, and then fell to 47.60.... A spokesperson of al-Sadr declared that ayatollah Sistani had 'agreed over the phone' to take over control of the shrine, where the militia were hiding. But after a few hours, it wasn't clear who was in control of the situation."


MEXICO: "The Najaf Enigma" 


Pedro Miguel speculated in left-of-center La Jornada (8/24): "Another possible explanation for the disappointing results of the warlike U.S. forces in Najaf is that these forces are not directed toward taking the holy city, the liquidation of the government of Mehdi or the general stabilization of Iraq, but rather to push up the price of oil in the international markets. The impact of the conflict in southern Iraq represents a severe blow to the European and Asian economies, and also harms the U.S., but it favors the Texas oil companies, those both Bushes are a part of. Perhaps the destruction and the deaths - of civilians and military, Iraqis and Americans- in Najaf might be the means at this time to optimize the profits for their shareholder friends, and the famous entrenched cleric may be an involuntary instrument in the hands of those in charge of controlling the prices."


 "U.S.:  Two Hurricanes"


Rogelio Rios noted in independent El Norte (8/19):  "Two hurricanes recently beat upon the U.S.:  one, ‘Charley’, which devastated the coasts of southern Florida; the other one, ‘Sadr’, threatens Iraq's democratic possibilities in the modern world.  Both phenomena, the meteorological and political, have broad repercussions for stability in Latin American countries and none of these, in particular Mexico, should consider them strangers to [their] national interests....  The other hurricane, ‘Sadr’, navigating under the flag of the resistance toward the U.S. occupation, encourages a fratricidal battle among Iraqis that seems the most serious threat for Iraq’s future and threatens the possibility of political change in the Islamic world....  The least we can do is become conscious of the situation, be prepared, open to global sensitivity that the globalized world demands."



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