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April 7, 2004
NYT: Sadr's Forces Bring Knives To a Gunfight

Thanks to some rather unfortunate circumstances, a New York Times reporter and photographer got an unplanned up-close-and-personal look at Moktada al-Sadr's militia, which has started an insurrection challenging American and Iraqi authority in Kufa. The quality of military discipline left journalist John Burns a bit shy of impressed:

If Moktada al-Sadr has chosen a grand mosque in this Euphrates River town for a last stand against American troops, as many of his militiamen have claimed in recent days, he appears to be relying more on the will of God than anything like military discipline to protect him.

Many hundreds of militiamen in the black outfits of Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army were visible on Tuesday on roads approaching the golden-domed mosque and inside the sprawling compound leading to the inner sanctuary. But they seemed unmarshaled, at least to the layman's eye more milling about than militant.

Burns and his photographer planned to attend an announced press conference by al-Sadr and wound up being kidnapped. After several hours, they were released, after their captors finally were convinced that Burns and his associate weren't Coalition special forces -- minus some of their equipment, including their satellite phones. In the intervening time, Burns got a pretty good look at the paramilitary force that wants to pit itself against the US Marine Corps, and wasn't too impressed.

Some of the militiamen were in their 50's and 60's, but most were young, some no more than 12 or 13. Weapons training among them appeared virtually nonexistent; Kalashnikovs with loaded magazines and safety catches off were nonchalantly waved in the air. ... One man of about 25 thrust a long-bladed knife into an imaginary belly, telling his companions, "This is what I will do to the American infidels when they enter here."

A great plan, if he lives long enough to actually get that close to one. "Bringing a knife to a gunfight" is an old proverb describing a pseudo-fatal cluelessness. In this case, with this description of what appears to be no more than a casually organized mob, the pseudo- part of that description may not apply.

Read the whole article. John Burns has regularly provided a rational and fair picture of the Iraq war and occupation; it's good to know he's back to relative safety.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 7, 2004 6:02 AM

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