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May 14, 2004
Battle of the Valley of Peace

It appears the battle for Najaf is back on. A few hours ago, American forces pushed deep into the city and wound up engaging Moqtada al-Sadr's militia in the world's largest cemetery, ironically called the Valley of Peace:

Backed by helicopters, American tanks charged into the center of this holy city on Friday and shelled positions held by fighters loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who launched an uprising against the U.S.-led coalition last month. In a sermon in a nearby city, a defiant al-Sadr condemned the United States and its chief coalition partner, Britain.

The U.S. attack represented a strongest U.S. push yet against al-Sadr, whose forces fought intense battles with American forces this week in another holy city, Karbala. The intensifying battles have eclipsed efforts by Iraqi political and tribal leaders to seek a peaceful solution to the confrontation ahead of a planned transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

Much of the fighting in Najaf happened in the city's vast cemetery, a maze of footpaths and tombs that offers ample hiding space for militiamen armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Several tanks rumbled into the cemetery, known as the "Valley of Peace" and thought to be the world's largest.

US forces also cut off the road between Najaf and Kufa, where al-Sadr was known to be giving a sermon on the "heads of tyranny," George Bush and Tony Blair, and claiming that the Nicholas Berg beheading and video were "fabricated. For the moment, he has been cut off from his al-Mahdi forces in Najaf, although he has militia in Kufa. al-Sadr has refused to endorse cease-fire agreements proposed by local Shi'a, even when supported by al-Sistani, the most prestigious of the Shi'ite clerics in Iraq.

With the June 30 deadline looming, it appears that the US has decided to resolve the al-Sadr problem ahead of potential political complications after the transfer of sovereignty. With France calling for a complete US withdrawal after the transfer and with some concern that the incoming Iraqi government might not agree to the extended US military presence necessary to clean up the insurgents, the deadline appears short indeed. With the Fallujah crisis abated, it looks like a good time to finish what we started with al-Sadr.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 14, 2004 6:28 AM

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