Thursday, April 3, 2008

Muqtada's million-person march

Reports today that Muqtada al-Sadr is calling for a million people to march on the Shiite holy city of Najaf next week, both as a show of political force and as a demonstration against the US occupation. The US-sponsored Maliki government is saying that it is more or less OK with it (even as its forces continue to surround Sadrist neighborhoods in Baghdad and US warplanes bomb Sadrist neighborhoods in Basra). But I fear that this proposed march has the potential to be the flashpoint that sets off the tinderbox. Najaf is controlled mostly by the forces of ISCI (Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim) and its militia, the Badr Force, which are extremely hostile to the Sadrists. Only a few months ago they came to blows in the other shrine city, Karbala, and the recent battles in Basra pitted the Mahdi Army of the Sadrists against the Iraqi army (with US ground and air support), many of whom were also members of the Badr militia. We can expect the feelings between the Sadrists and ISCI to be very raw when the march takes place.

And add to that the fact that the Sunni al-Qaeda forces will likely be planning attacks against the Shiite marchers . . . and that US forces will likely be nearby, on alert . . .

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