Muslim Rivals Unite In Baghdad Uprising
By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 7, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, April 6 -- On the streets of Baghdad neighborhoods long defined by differences of faith and politics, signs are emerging that resistance to the U.S. occupation may be growing from a sporadic, underground effort to a broader insurrection by militiamen who claim to be fighting in the name of their common faith, Islam.
On Monday, residents of Adhamiya, a largely Sunni section of northern Baghdad, marched with followers of Moqtada Sadr, the militant Shiite cleric whose call for armed resistance was answered by local Sunnis the same afternoon, residents said.
As protesters chanted anti-occupation slogans in Abu Hanifa Square, militants were seen hustling toward the site carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, residents said. The guerrillas opened fire on the U.S. armor deployed near the demonstration, attacking from positions in a neighborhood where militants appear to be not just tolerated but encouraged.
"I saw three mujaheddin on this street, and another three moving up this side," said Abu Hassan, pointing toward narrow lanes running toward the square on either side of the bakery where he works. On the other side of the counter, a customer spoke excitedly of guerrilla fighters arriving in several Toyota Coaster minibuses, then melting into the neighborhood.
"Everywhere among the houses they hid," said the young customer, who left without giving his name. "Then they started shooting at the American army."
"It's all so we will have a resistance, Adhamiya and Moqtada combined," Hassan said.
The bakery did brisk business Tuesday afternoon. In a city where the ordinarily jammed streets had light traffic for a second straight day, residents confided that they were ordering enough bread to last two or three days, stockpiling a staple in expectation of street fighting in the days ahead.
"What Moqtada Sadr did simply woke up the people," said Sarmad Akram, 36, who owns the small food shop next door. "Now the people have the guts to resist."
The exchange, in a middle-class Sunni quarter, was one scene Tuesday that appeared to challenge the assessment by U.S. military officials that Sadr speaks for only a radical fringe in Iraq and that his calls for mass resistance will resonate only with his followers.
Directly across the Tigris River, in the heavily Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya, shops were shuttered and residents kept their own watch for the approach of armored columns from an occupation base at the top of the street.
The scene was calm, but a half-hour earlier a rocket-propelled grenade had ripped into a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the neighborhood, killing a U.S. soldier, the third killed in Kadhimiya in two days.
"We didn't do it," Sayyid Adnan Saafi said into his cell phone. The black-turbaned Sadr official was surrounded by armed men, but most of the several hundred males loitering in a broad pedestrian mall were local civilians, chatting, chewing salted nuts and nominally participating in the general strike Sadr's office had demanded of all schools and government offices. "Not supporting this strike means not supporting religion," a flyer warned.
"We told the people to take the students out to protest in a quiet and peaceful way," Saafi said. One principal said most officials felt obliged to obey, despite a contrary order from the Education Ministry, which is controlled by the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.
Like complaints about home searches that leave Iraqis feeling defiled and humiliated, disappointment with the Governing Council is a grievance that binds many Iraqis. The panel is widely condemned as dominated by exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress leader far better known and loved in Washington than in Baghdad. The complaint gained new energy when Shiite clerics began a campaign against sections of the basic law the council produced with U.S. oversight as a basis for a constitution.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company