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American Troops Dodged A Bullet,
But The Najaf Shrine Did Not
By Jerri Ann Lewis

The war in Iraq has been declared "over" for months, yet the battle continues. A democratic government began in Iraq on July 28, 2004 due to the insistence of the Bush Administration and the U.S. occupation, yet gunfire and bombings have not stopped. Some Iraqi citizens remain unsatisfied with the direction the new government is going.1

However, the word 'unsatisfied' is a bit of an understatement.

Enter the Insurgents:
On August 5, 2004, Rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr formed a militant to rebel against the system. Al-Sadr and his followers believe that the U.S. troops should leave Iraq immediately in order to give Iraqi citizens the right to decide whether or not to establish an Islamic State.2 The rebel fighting escalated in Najaf and surrounding cities. A civil war seemed inevitable once Al-Sadr's militants had locked themselves within the confines of the Imam Ali Mosque (Najaf Shrine). Attacks continued for weeks in the alleyways and streets around the shrine.3

The standoff disturbed many Najaf citizens due to the loss of their relatives, friends, and neighbors, explosions that damaged the city, and loss of their water and electricity. To add to the threats, a group called the Martyrs Brigade has been kidnapping people that do not support Sadr's militants.4 Iraqi government officials attempted to proceed with the plans of the Bush Administration in the building of their democracy as the fighting persisted. However, after the objections of several of the conference attendees, the Iraqi Forum was postponed.5

KA-BOOM!
The final blow came on August 22, 2004 when a three-foot hole was blown in the side of the Najaf shrine. This blast is believed to have been caused by U.S. fire.6 "Although U.S. troops outpower Sadr's men with tanks and aerial support, any raid on the shrine could backfire and fuel anti-American sentiment, which is already running high in Iraq, where Shiites make up 60 percent of the population."7 With all of this, U.S. military officials began estimating that it could take up to 10 years to "crush the insurgency."6

CEASE-FIRE!
Since March 2003, close to 1,000 American service members have died during the U.S. occupation in Iraq.8 Thus, the death toll continued to rise, as did the probability of a civil war. After a 24-hour blood bath on August 25, 2004, there seemed to be no end in site. That was until a top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, offered his assistance during a cease-fire the following day.9

Sistani stepped forward to propose a peace agreement to Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr agreed to all points of the plan. In return for disbanding the militia, Al-Sadr would "remain as free as any citizen in Iraq" and turn his following into a political movement. As of 2 a.m. (EDT) August 27, 2004, Najaf and the surrounding cities were proclaimed a "weapons-free" zone.9

Had the intervention of Sistani not occurred when it did, we could have seen a far different scenario. Pressed by the political motives of the Bush Administration, we could have seen a civil war resulting in more deaths, even greater oil prices, and the continual undermining of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.9 When will our government learn to let other countries work some problems out for themselves? Even with the agreement of Al-Sadr's followers to lay down their weapons in Najaf, insurgents continue to rebel and our troops continue to defend other areas within the "red zones" of Iraq.10 These interventions caused by President Bush's desire to maintain his title as "War President" in order to strengthen his election campaigns and political ties does nothing to prove he is a wonderful leader. In reality, he is sacrificing the lives of Americans for his own political gain. The sacrifice of those Americans and the pain and suffering of their loved ones left behind should be in our thoughts when we visit the polls in November.



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