FoxNews Report: Shiite
Cleric Says Sighting in Iraq's South is Making U.S. Enemies
Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi, a Shiite spiritual leader in the
sacred city of Karbala, is one of Iraq's five living grand ayatollahs. Like
Iraq's preeminent Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani,
al-Modarresi is considered a moderate who believes in the compatability of
Islam and democracy, and counsels patience with the U.S.-led occupation. Yet
he warns that if Sistani's demands for direct elections of an interim Iraqi
government are not met, the U.S. risks disaster. As a strong
opponent of Saddam Hussein, he spent years in
exile in Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, before heading home to Karbala
shortly after the collapse of the Baath Party regime.
Shiite Cleric: Fighting in
Iraq's South Making U.S. Enemies
Monday, May 24, 2004
KARBALA, Iraq — A senior Shiite cleric warned Monday that clashes
between U.S. troops and the Shiite militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
could create enemies for America -- even after U.S. troops leave Iraq.
"This war has planted a lasting strife in our country," Grand
Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi (search) told
The Associated Press as he sat cross-legged in a bare room.
"Even if the Americans withdraw from Iraq, the
Shiites have patience and perseverance," al-Modaresi said, implying that
angry relatives would likely hold grudges against the Americans for many
Al-Modaresi, who has tried to mediate between the U.S.-run coalition and
al-Sadr, said he feared those who suffered at the hands of the Americans
during the nearly 2-month-long uprising might try to "harm American and
Al-Modaresi, one of Iraq's five Shiite grand ayatollahs, spoke as this
Shiite holy city 50 miles south of Baghdad was recovering from weeks of
fighting, which ended here after al-Sadr's militiamen repositioned from the
center of town.
However, clashes persist elsewhere, especially around the holy city
of Najaf, 50 miles to the south, and its twin city Kufa, an al-Sadr
stronghold that U.S. forces entered early Sunday, killing about 34
U.S. officials insist they will not negotiate directly with al-Sadr, whom
they describe as a thug. The Americans demand that al-Sadr, the son of a
grand ayatollah murdered by suspected Saddam Hussein's agents, disband his
Al-Sadr launched his uprising after the U.S.-run coalition closed his
newspaper, arrested a key aide and announced a warrant charging al-Sadr in
the April 2003 assassination of a moderate cleric.
Since then, clashes have erupted throughout the Shiite heartland south of
Baghdad. But the Americans have held back from using their overwhelming
firepower, fearing an all-out assault might damage some of Shiite Islam's
holiest shrines and inflame Shiites around the world.
That al-Sadr's revolt has drawn U.S. forces to within sight of Shiism's
holiest shrines in Karbala, Najaf and Kufa has offended many Shiites and may
have chipped away at al-Sadr's popularity.
But some Shiite moderates have complained that the hard-line U.S. stand
has actually bolstered al-Sadr's prestige, creating tensions within the
community that will persist after the Americans transfer power to the Iraqis
on June 30.
"Americans can militarily defeat the al-Sadr forces ... but that would be
a political defeat for America," al-Modaresi said. "Democracy means
cooperating with [political] currents."
The commander of U.S. troops battling the militia, Maj. Gen. Martin
Dempsey, has said the coalition hopes Shiite leaders will be able to find a
However, al-Modaresi criticized what he termed American "stubbornness" in
the face of those efforts.
"There was a possibility to contain this group," he said. "I don't know
why the coalition forces were stubborn."
A major obstacle cited by al-Modaresei is the American demand that
al-Sadr "face justice" in the death of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who was hacked
to death April 10, 2003, by a mob in Najaf during what was supposed to be a
reconciliation meeting as Saddam's regime was collapsing.
Al-Modaresi has supported a proposal to suspend military operations, give
al-Sadr a political role and delay legal action against him until a
sovereign government takes power. Al-Sadr wants any legal moves delayed
until Iraqis elect a government next year.
However, some members al-Sadr's militia, the al-Mahdi Army, insist they
are defending Islam and its shrines against American domination -- not just
"We fight for our holy cities, for our country," said Ali Hussein, an
al-Mahdi Army fighter who said he took part in clashes in Karbala. "We are
defending a belief."
Although Karbala has quieted, bitterness against the Americans persists
among some here, even as militia members used shovels and pushcarts Monday
to clear debris from the Mukhaiyam mosque, al-Sadr's local headquarters and
the scene of fierce fighting.
Parts of the mosque's outer wall and roof had been knocked down. The
inside was littered with bricks and blue tiles with Arabic calligraphy.
Although U.S. officers speak of the militia withdrawing from the city,
some of them said they simply set aside their guns and returned to their
daily lives in Karbala.
"If the Americans come into the city, we will repeat the battle," said
Hussein, the fighter. "The Americans are Jews; they don't honor agreements."
Ahmed Ibrahim, who works at al-Sadr's office, claimed U.S. troops who
entered the al-Mokhaiyam mosque during the battles left behind alcohol and
"The war of the Americans in Iraq is a war against Islam, not against
Muqtada al-Sadr," Ibrahim said. "If they come back, we will just run home
and bring our weapons," he said of the Americans.