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'The threat of civil war is very real'

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Washington Post Editorial, April 6

"The eruption of violence between US and coalition troops and a radical Shia militia certainly marks another turn for the worse in Iraq. Sunday's heavy toll in casualties, including eight American soldiers killed, suggests how costly it may be to repel the challenge of Moqtada al-Sadr, the extremist cleric who ordered attacks on the occupation forces ...

"Mr Sadr, who has a base in the slums of Baghdad, is a young cleric with a considerably smaller following and reputation than other Shia leaders like Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Najaf. Precisely for that reason, Mr Sadr has sought to gain support by adopting a hard line against the occupation and the US ... Now that the conflict with [his] Mahdi army has begun, US commanders should not hesitate to act quickly and with overwhelming force."

Daily News Editorial, New York, April 6

"This young hothead holy man thunders that he is all but an opposition Iraqi government unto himself and warns that a single word from him will loose tens of thousands of fanatical followers upon infidel invaders and Iraqi quislings ...

"As the US moves toward handing sovereignty to a new Baghdad government on June 30, the threat of a Sadr-engineered civil war is conceivably very real ... He clearly speaks for a worrisome new Shia 'second front' ... Mr Sadr is bad news - for the administration, for the troops, for the future of Iraq. Via arrest or otherwise, he needs to get neutralised, pronto."

Wall Street Journal Editorial, April 6

"The next few days in Iraq may be the most critical since President George Bush ordered the invasion ... Millions of Iraqis, and millions of Americans, are waiting to see if the US is still fighting in Iraq to win ... With Sunday's riots [Mr Sadr] has crossed a line that makes him an urgent threat ...

"Having let Mr Sadr's militia grow, the coalition now has no choice but to break it up ... We trust that Mr Bush knows that his reaction to Falluja and Mr Sadr matters far more to his re-election prospects than does Richard Clarke's book tour. Americans ... know that Iraq was Mr Bush's undertaking, and they will hold him responsible for any failure of will."

Boston Globe Editorial, April 6

"Mr Sadr is best opposed politically. But Iraqis know better than Americans Mr Sadr's vulnerabilities and how to thwart his drive for power. His strictures against women's rights and against videos and alcohol conflict with the mores of most Iraqis. And Iraqis know that Mr Sadr is a protege of the hardline Iranian Ayatollah Kadhem al-Haeri. These things may be used against him - by Iraqis and with better effect than forceful US military tactics."

Gulf News Editorial, United Arab Emirates, April 6

"The coalition forces, Iraq's interim governing council and an international community working tirelessly for the political transition to an interim Iraqi government will be decidedly anxious to prevent Mr Sadr ... from creating more instability.

"It is in this context that the becalming influence of Ayatollah Sistani will prove to be crucial. Ayatollah Sistani, despite his reservations ... has pointedly asked the demonstrators not to retaliate against these forces in the event of an aggression. This is a clear message to Mr Sadr himself, who has urged his supporters to 'terrorise' the enemy, and to all Shia demonstrators in general, that Iraq's senior clerics are determined to see the country's majority community benefit from a culture of moderation."

Daily Star Editorial, Lebanon, April 6

"Ayatollah Sistani has called for calm and a refrain from violence. The majority of Shias and other Iraqis share his views ... But in situations like this, events can quickly get out of hand when emotions dominate prudence, and mob psychology can transform an isolated encounter into a series of pitched battles, and then into - Vietnam, Palestine, Algeria come to mind - a sustained war of liberation ...

"The answer to this ugly turn of events surely is to reject the absolutist perspectives of both the occupying coalition's heavy-handed measures and the Sadr camp's provocations, and instead to keep one's eye and policy actions firmly on that vast majority of Iraqis that shuns gratuitous violence and works for a scheduled end of occupation and a return to Iraqi sovereignty."

Full Article

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