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August 9, 2004
Najaf Governor Gives Green Light To Military Action

Moqtada al-Sadr lost important political cover overnight when the governor of Najaf agreed to allow joint Iraqi-American forces to begin military operations to eject Sadr from the Imam Ali mosque, one of the holiest Shi'a shrines and a site that the Americans had carefully avoided attacking:

The governor of Najaf cleared the way Monday for military operations around the Iman Ali shrine, the most holy place in Shiite Islam, where fighters loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are holed up, said a commander for the U.S.-led multinational forces. ...

At a briefing Monday afternoon, a senior multinational forces commander said the governor of Najaf had approved the operations in coordination with the Iraqi National Guard.

The commander estimated that more than 360 of al-Sadr's fighters -- believed to number around 2,000 -- have been killed since the governor of Najaf requested assistance last week from the multinational forces to put down the uprising.

The commander said the militias are in two places -- a cemetery and the Iman Ali mosque. He said U.S. Marines and Iraqi National Guard troops had surrounded the mosque and were sweeping the cemetery in an operation he called "measured and methodical."

Sadr has again overplayed his hand. As several people have pointed out, the sudden need for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani appears to have been timed in order to give the interim government an opening to remove Sadr without Sistani having to approve of their actions. At the same time, Sadr continued to provoke the new government, attacking police stations and advocating violent change, all the time hiding out in the one place he thought the Iraqis and Americans would never dare come.

During this time, he's seen his raggedy Mahdi army reduced by at least 20% through death and an unknown number captured. Sadr continues to pursue his personal vision of power through inconsistent means, but one thing is certain: he is no general, and he faces a determined and experienced military with its last shackles loosed by the Najafians. Even the Shi'a have tired of Sadr and his reckless endangerment of their shrines and have concluded that the only way to get him out is to force him out.

He may well be the most inept Muslim military leader since Enver Pasha, and if he doesn't hike himself out of Najaf quickly, will likely share his fate.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 9, 2004 9:09 AM

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