Thursday, May 13, 2004

Sophie Shihab Reports...

Le Monde's Sophie Shihab reports from Sadr City:
In Sadr City, the Shia are tired of fighting
LE MONDE | 12.05.04 | 13h13  •  UPDATED 12.05.04 | 14h45

Baghdad from our correspondent

Twice destroyed, twice rebuilt: the offices of the leader of the "disinherited" Shia, Muktada al-Sadr, in the Bagdad neighborhood renamed for his family, rose again, brand new, on Wednesday, May 11, in the middle of Sadr City. The morning of the day before, it lay in ruins, destroyed in the night by fire from American tanks and helicopters.

[...]

"If they kill Sayid Muktada, a thousand others will rise to lead the Iraqi people's war," proclaims [director] Sheikh Salman [Al-Fureiji], in his freshly repainted little office. In the neighboring rooms, dozens of boys are working with shovels and trowels. Before the exterior walls, the first to be repainted, there are as many cleaning bricks. In front of reporters, they begin fervent declarations, lead by their elders, of their faith in the Prophet, in his son Hussein and, above all, in Muktada al-Sadr.

Sheikh Salman is receiving a reporter from Iraqi television, created under American auspices. The reporter complains that his cameramen, threatened by the Madhi army, no longer dare to enter Sadr City. The answer comes shooting back: "That's to be expected: the people no longer want their army to be called a 'militia,' as you call them." But, after consultations, he agrees to make a statement: "In this office, there were only administrators, jurists. It's destruction shall not go unpunished. If our intellectuals, our tribes or the international community do not rise to denounce this crime, it shall be done by our raging masses. You can see perfectly well that our people aren't thugs. They're building and all Sadr City is building with us."

But "all Sadr City" does not share this opinion. For Hayder, on shopkeeper, the "'Madhi army,' started the provocations as they did on April 4. They came out to block the streets on Sunday morning and they shot at the Americans before the Americans responded and put us through days of hell." The Shia neighborhood, with its two to three million inhabitants, was a dead city for three days. According to the Americans, the shooting killed "35 militiamen of Muktada al-Sadr." According to Sheikh Salman, the latter would have taken casualties of no more than "three or four martyrs." But Hayder speaks of an entire family killed by the bullets from Muktada's guys, who can't shoot straight."

The amateur nature of the youths enrolled in the "Madhi army" is only one of the locals' griefs, of whom "at least nine out of ten don't want any more fighting in Sadr City," says Hayder, "even among the third who are partisans of Muktada al-Sadr and who live here," he says. Since April, there has been graffiti in Sadr City threatening "spies for the Americans" with death — as has been the case in the Sunni areas since autumn. Threats that are carried out: Muktada al-Sadr's newspaper — The Voice of the Speaking Hawza — which replaced the banned newspaper, The Speaking Hawza — published the photo of body of an alleged "spy" —a young metal worker — hung from an electrical pylon with a sign: "Spy. Do not approach. Mines."

"He stayed up there for 24 hours," says Hayder, "but people don't like this; they say we don't yet have real courts for this. They say that now you can denounce your neighbor for being a "friend of the Americans" the way you could denounce him for having spoken ill of Saddam."

But these Shia majorities that, in Sadr City and elsewhere, fear a new and Islamic totalitarianism, have until very recently remained entirely silent. The Americans lament the fact that the moderate Shia authorities privately complain that the Americans have been or are still too conciliatory with Muktada while they publicly denounce the Americans' latest actions against Muktada's "soldiers"... It wasn't until this Monday that the first demonstration was organized to demand "the withdrawal of men under arms from the holy cities, to protect them from American attack."