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Who’s Provoking Whom?


(Photo found at STiTP.)

Yesterday, MSNBC reported via Reuters and AP continued fighting in the Shi'ite city of Najaf between US forces and members of the Mehdi Army, the 60,000 man militia loyal to Muqtadr al-Sadr. The reason for this specific skirmish is disputed, but US forces claim they sought out and eventually killed a man they claimed was involved in improvised explosive bombs (IEDs), the bombs that have been killing and maining US soldiers and Iraqi citizens.

U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said Amiri was an “improvised explosive device facilitator” and that he was implicated in a bomb attack on a police chief in October.

Slain lawyer not attached to militant group

He said he was shot dead in his home near Najaf, during an Iraqi-led raid, by a U.S. military adviser who saw Amiri point an assault rifle at an Iraqi soldier. He said U.S. forces had “tremendous amount of information” on Amiri for some time.

“The purpose of going after him is because of the illegal activities that he was conducting, not because he was associated to any particular organization,” Caldwell told reporters.

The Iraqis dispute this version and are now claiming the US forces shot and killed an innocent man in front of his family. And the residents of Najaf are angry.

Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched through the holy Iraqi city of Najaf in an angry funeral procession after a senior Sadr aide was killed by a U.S. soldier on Wednesday.

Chanting “No to America” and carrying placards decrying U.S. occupation, mourners, including black-robed clerics, carried the coffin of Saheb al-Amiri through the streets.

Sadr officials said U.S. forces stormed Amiri’s home at dawn on Wednesday and killed him in front of his wife and children. They said Amiri was a lawyer who headed a charity for orphans and the poor and was not part of the Mehdi Army.

“What happened was a crime. It comes on top of other crimes committed by occupation forces in Iraq,” Nassar al-Rubaei, head of the Sadr bloc in parliament, told reporters in Baghdad.

In Najaf, Sheikh Abdul-Razzes al-Malawi, a member of Sadr’s office, said: “U.S. forces want to drag us into a confrontation, but we won’t be dragged into it. However, we promise them there will be a reaction at the appropriate time.”

In the comments last night, Swopa reminds us that however popular al-Sadr may be, he is still a "thug" whose control of the Iraqi Health Ministry enabled death squads to operate inside Iraqi hospitals. (h/t to Siun for this link and to Swopa for this Juan Cole link (with links to CBS' Lara Logan).

Even then, like so much of the violence in Iraq, this incident probably didn't need to happen. We can't easily judge the truth of the disparate versions, but as the article notes, US forces recently turned over control of security forces for Najaf to the Iraqis. And while US officials claim the operation was planned in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces, US forces either led or played a prominent role.

Of course, we'd never suspect that these incidents were just payback for Ayatolla Sistani nixing the anti-Sadr coalition. (nod to Mary) But what does it mean to turn over security to the Iraqis (which we had just done, possibly to please Sistani) if US forces still carry out military operations against Iraqi citizens and invite the heat for what happens?

In the meantime, this killing has angered the Iraqi citizens and the Mehdi Army. If you want to make someone angry enough to attack you, just just keep poking them with a sharp stick. It also works with armed and angry Iraqi militias.

UPDATE: Juan Cole has more on this incident here.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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