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The Shiite Bloody Saturday Leaves Baghdad Reeling

File photo: An Iraqi Shiite insurgent.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jul 24, 2006
That which Americans should fear has come upon them: U.S. troops in Iraq killed 15 Shiite militiamen Saturday. According to first reports, the fighting occurred in the town of Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad. The exchange was an intense one. It lasted three hours and dozens more people were injured.

The clash was not a random one. It was part of a systematic drive U.S. forces had been ordered to carry out against the Mahdi Army of anti-American firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr.

This clash was the most serious since the brief and potentially very dangeorus rising by Sadr's militia against U.S. forces in April 2004. It came after popular Shiite opinion across Iraq has been inflamed against the United States by the continuing failure of U.S. forces to protect Shiite communities in the country from the continuing onslaught of Sunni insurgents.

Also, it comes as Israel's attacks on the Shiite militias of southern Lebanon are escalating towards a full-scale land invasion of Hezbollah-controlled territory.

The danger is therefore more imminent than ever that the U.S. drive against Sadr's forces could trigger a more widespread rising of Shiite militias in Baghdad and across southern Iraq against U.S. forces. The already chaotic situation in Iraq would then become indescribable.

We make this prediction in these columns the same way we confidently -- and grimly -- predicted on May 1, 2003, that the Sunni population of Iraq would be enraged by the killing of 15 of their number in clashes with U.S. troops in the city of Fallujah, and that this would lead to a years-long widespread Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces in their country.

On that day -- the same day President George W. Bush confidently but erroneously declared "Mission Accomplished " in Iraq from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln -- UPI Analysis predicted: "The killing of 15 anti-American demonstrators by U.S. troops in the Iraqi city of Fallujah this week, followed by the reported killing of at least two more Wednesday, is a dire omen for those who imagined Iraq could be quietly but firmly guided on the paths of stable, pro-American democracy in the next few months, or even years.

"It is, rather, the kind of event that Thomas Jefferson called 'a fire-bell in the night' -- the harbinger of infinitely worse conflict and travails to come."

We noted then in UPI Analysis, "In its scale and likely repercussions, the Fallujah Massacre -- as it will soon clearly be known -- appears remarkably similar to the killing of 13 Northern Irish Catholics by the British army during fierce demonstrations in the city of Londonderry -- a provincial center comparable to Fallujah -- on what became known as 'Bloody Sunday' on Jan. 30, 1972.

'That event, more than anything else, proved a windfall for the rapidly mobilizing paramilitary Provisional Irish Republican Army, at the time known popularly as the 'Provos.' And over the next few years, it launched a campaign of urban terror and bomb massacres that in its calculated efforts to kill and maim civilians was without parallel in Europe during the 46 years from the end of World War II to the beginning of the wars in the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

'It will be surprising if we do not see the same thing in Iraq in the coming months, and possibly even in the next few weeks.

'In fact, what happened in Fallujah and what is now likely to happen throughout Iraq is no more or less than a reversion to the traditional patterns of the 40 years of history that the Iraqi people previously spent under the control -- first direct then indirect -- of a major Western power determined to `educate` them into Western practices of democracy.'

Sure enough, Fallujah became one of the most ferocious centers of the Shiite insurgency in Iraq. It was repeatedly fought over by U.S. forces and militias in bitter, house-to-house battles reminiscent of Stalingrad, Budapest and Berlin in World War II.

And in the three years and nearly three months since Bush pronounced his famous 'Mission Accomplished' comment, more than 2,200 American soldiers have been killed serving in Iraq, more than seven times the number who had died when that statement was made.

Now, however, the destructive potential of a widespread Shiite uprising in Iraq is vastly worse than the Sunni threat was three-and-a-quarter years ago.

The Shiite population of Iraq is more than three times that of the Sunni community. It is greater by 10 million people. The Shiites control all of southern Iraq, including the U.S. Army`s crucial land supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad.

The Sunni militias in May 2003 needed a period of organization and recruiting before they could present a serious widespread threat to U.S. forces. As we have monitored in our companion 'UPI Iraq Benchmarks' column, this escalation gradually occurred over the following two-and-a-half years.

But the Shiite militias across Iraq are already organized and networked together. They have far more support, certainly financial and probably in terms of arms supply, than the Sunni insurgents ever did and there are potentially far more of them.

Also, they enjoy potential support and, at the very least, protection and toleration, from the Shiite-controlled new Iraqi army and police force that U.S. policymakers have built up at a frantic speed to fight the Sunni insurgents. But the price of that rapid build-up was the failure to establish any effective American controls over the new forces that could easily turn against their American creators.

Bush administration and Pentagon policymakers never dreamed the Sunni insurgency would get as bad as it did. A widespread Shiite militia rising against U.S. forces will be infinitely more dangerous. But no one in Washington appears to realize that either.

Source: United Press International

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