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2004-04-07

Battles Rage Across Iraq As U.S. Comes Face To Face With a Unified Armed Resistance

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Resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq intensified for a fourth day in cities and town across Iraq bringing the death toll to at least 20 U.S. soldiers and over 150 Iraqis. Hundreds more have been wounded. We go to Iraq to get a report from the ground from Aaron Glantz of Free Speech Radio News and Pratap Chatterjee of CorpWatch.org. [includes rush transcript]

Resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq has intensified for a fourth day. On Tuesday 12 U.S. soldiers died in a firefight near Ramadi bringing the US death toll in the last few days to at least 20. Over 150 Iraqis have been killed including 26 in Fallujah where US warplanes bombed a residential Sunni area. 16 children and eight women were killed in that attack.

Followers of the young Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr continued their uprising by effectively taken control of Najaf, the Shiite holy city of 500,000.

Fighting against US troops also occurred in Baghdad, Basra, Amarah, Nasiriyah, Karbala and Kut.

A nightmare situation for the US is beginning to emerge with Sunni and Shiite Muslims joining together for the first time to oppose the US occupation. One 30-year-old Sunni merchant in Adhamiya told reporters, "This is now jihad against the Americans regardless of whether we are Shiites or Sunnis."

UPI is reporting a leading Sunni sheik has sent the Shiite leader Sadr a letter offering his army to fight the Americans.

The sheik Harrath Selman al-Tey wrote, "There is no more Shiite and Sunni, only Muslims and now we will fight each other no more and together fight the same enemy."

The Financial Times is reporting the fighting in Iraq now resembles a Palestinian-style Intifada.

The US suffered its biggest military setback of the year Tuesday in the city of Ramadi, west of Fallujah. The attack was carried out not by Shiite supporters of Sadr but dozens of Sunni fighters who raided a US base at the governor’s palace. They were armed with RPGs and automatic weapons.

The fighting was so intense, Sky News of London at one point reported 130 US Marines might been killed but all subsequent accounts put the death toll at about 12.

The US fought back as warplanes fired at homes in Ramadi while troops fought block by block on the ground. Fighting has continued into today.

One GI told the Washington Post, "It seemed like everyone in the city who had a gun was out there."

In Fallajah, U.S. forces called out a weapon rarely used against the Iraqi guerrillas: the AC-130 gunship, a warplane that circles over a target, laying down a devastating barrage of heavy machine gun fire. U.S. forces killed at least 60 Iraqis in Fallajah and destroyed four houses.

In Kadhimiya Shiite Iraqis killed three U.S. soldiers.

The US military today vowed to "destroy" Sadr’s militia known as the Mehdi Army. But Sadr vowed to die fighting. He said, "America has shown its evil intentions, and the proud Iraqi people cannot accept it. They must defend their rights by any means they see fit."

And the Bush administration went on the offensive in dealing with the crisis. Paul Bremer, the head of the US occupation, and Secretary of State Colin Powell blasted Senator Ted Kennedy for claiming Iraq had become George Bush’s Vietnam. Bremer said, "There is nothing in common with Vietnam."

President Bush downplayed the resistance as being carried out by "thugs and terrorists" who don’t have values.

The Bush administration also continued to maintain that power would be handed over to Iraq on June 30.

But Senator John Kerry said he is concerned Bush is pushing for the transfer of power solely for political reasons.

Kerry told reporters "I think they wanted to get the troops out, get the transfer out of the way as fast as possible without regard to the stability of Iraq. It is a mistake to set an arbitrary date and I hope that date has nothing to do with the elections here in the United States."

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said the US was "dangerously close" to losing control in Iraq.

The Washington Post quotes a senior US official involved in Iraq policy saying, "We’ve reached a moment of truth here with both Fallujah and Sadr. We have to get both right or there are serious questions about whether this political transition can go forward."

The former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq was better off under Saddam Hussein."

Blix told a Danish newspaper, "What’s positive is that Saddam and his bloody regime is gone, but when figuring out the score, the negatives weigh more... The war has liberated the Iraqis from Saddam, but the costs have been too great."

  • Aaron Glantz, Free Speech Radio News. Report filed from Baghdad.
  • Pratap Chatterjee, managing director of CorpWatch.org. Speaking from Baghdad.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: First we go to Free Speech Radio News’s Aaron Glantz in Baghdad. It was reported Tuesday.

AARON GLANTZ: This is a funeral. Hundreds of young men fire machine guns into the air as their comrades carry the coffin of a dead boy into Baghdad’s Abu Hanifa Mosque. Last night while the American army dug trenches around Falluja, the Sunni resistance struck Iraq’s capital city following on American Hum-V patrols. The U.S. Army responded with Apache attack helicopters, the only victim, a young boy standing unarmed in front of the mosque watching the action unfold. It was a night of Apache helicopter attacks in Baghdad, a new tactic of the American army, which is facing an increasingly violent resistance. At about the same time Apache helicopters struck the poor Shiite neighborhood of Shula, killing three Iraqis in their homes. The intended target was a nearby mosque, a stronghold of the young cleric, Moktada al-Sadr who opposes the occupation and was declared an outlaw yesterday by George W. Bush, whose spokesman linked Sadr’s movement with the anti-Israel groups Hamas and Hezbollah. The Sheikh Nasser Al-Saadi is head of Sadr’s office in Shula.

NASSER AL-SAADI: We are defending our country and demanding rights for the people. Any good man, like Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah or Moktada al-Sadr, any decent man in the world should feel very proud of us. The Americans are making the people angry by using the Apache people and killing the people in their houses, killing the innocent. We have a picture of a child whose entire face is disfigured by bullets.

AARON GLANTZ: In the streets, the anger is palpable. A cheering crowd gathered around the smoldering remains of an American military vehicle. Mudafar Israer is among them.

MUDAFAR ISRAER: I don’t follow Moktada. I just want the occupation to end. Young people just lost their patience, so they did it, but the real thing hasn’t started yet.

AARON GLANTZ: In a carefully worded statement, Iraq’s most respected cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sistani said Sadr’s cause was righteous, but Sistani said there was no reason to resort to violence, a significantly softer statement than the ones coming from Washington and Iraq’s Bush Administraition-appointed Interior Minister, Ayad Alawi, who used to run a Pentagon-funded organization dedicated to promoting a military coup in Iraq. He compared Moktada al-Sadr to Al Qaeda.

AYAD ALAWI: We, from our brother Moktada al-Sadr tell all the others to calm down because there’s a lot of forces in Iraq, like Al Qaeda, a lot of forces trying to kill themselves as suicide bombers. They want to stop Iraq from heading towards democracy and liberation. We will move against that very strongly.

AARON GLANTZ: But in the Shiite slum of Shula, Alawi’s words seem hollow. Like everyone around him, Raazi Abdulrehda supports the attack on the Americans. RAAZI ABDULREHDA: The Americans have got to go round and round and make us feel uncomfortable. They block the streets, always checking us, and put a lot of in prisons.

AARON GLANTZ: About 135,000 American soldiers are currently serving in Iraq. Washington is considering sending 40,000 more. More than 600 American troops have died on the soil of this country. For Free Speech Radio News, I’m Aaron Glantz in Baghdad, Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: We remain in Baghdad with Pratap Chatterjee. Managing Director of "Corpwatch.org," independent reporter. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Patap Chatterjee.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Thank you for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what is happening right now in Baghdad?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, Amy, as Aaron’s story indicated, there’s a tremendous amount of conflict within Baghdad, three neighborhoods in particular. Al-Bunnia, which is a Sunni stronghold and often called the Falluja of Baghdad, has seen continuing strikes in the last couple of days. I was there yesterday, and the local kids took us around. We saw a red Volkswagon immediately crushed by a tank as it ran over it. The troops exited into a side lane shooting as they went to put people out that they felt were behind the problems. That’s on the Sunni side, many of the people who are very aligned to Saddam Hussein, but on the other side of the religious spectrum, so to speak, when you cross the Tigris and go over to Qubeny and then on to Shula, as Aaron mentioned, we saw hundreds of people in the street dancing and singing, and chanting against America. We were at the headquarters of Sadr, outside Sadr, city and people were standing on the roof waving Kalashnikovs, clerics and holding up pictures of Sadr and saying, "Down with America." We went actually into the city, it was interesting, in sector seven there’s a playground, a children’s playground, which had been taken over by tanks, and the cannons are pointing straight into the neighborhoods, seven of them. This is really the scene that’s unfolding across Iraq, where there’s been — I haven’t been outside Baghdad as yet down to the South, but I came through Kurdistan, through Kirkuk. In Kirkuk, the two days that I was there, the two occasions, there was one bomb that blew up when people were trying to plant it, and another occasion, a suicide bomber killed a couple of people. What’s interesting here is that the increasing calm now between the Sunnis and Shiites, between people in Falluja, who are holed up, cut off from outside contact to the people in Najaf saying, "We need to work together," and what remains to be seen is if they do, it will be, as they say, the Americans’ worst nightmare, because there seems to be a lot of popular — not in the religious level, but just in sheer frustration, nothing is — they live the anger of the people — the people are voicing, especially will in Falluja, when they attacked the blackwater mercenaries coming through town. What they’re seeing today is a number of American corporate contractors who travel to town bearing Kalashnikovs and wearing flak jackets whom the local people assume must be C.I.A. — why are the people wearing plainclothes? What they don’t realize, don’t understand, is that these people are here simply for money to serve the big companies. To the, it’s one and the same thing. These people are not soldiers. They must be here for some more insidious reason. Their companies are there to profit out of the billion of dollars that America is pouring into this quote, unquote, "reconstruction." But when we — in order to establish a stronghold and establish bases here, and so it’s really two Iraqs. One Iraq with the contractors, and I stand right now as I speak to you in front of the Palestine Hotel and Sheraton, and about 20 meters from me, are three soldiers and two tanks, and hundreds of people are walking with flak jackets and are paid $1,000 a day to work for American companies like Bechtel and Halliburton, whereas on the other side of the street, three out of four — on the other side of the river, three out of four Iraqis have no jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re listening to Pratap Chatterjee.

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