Jump to content
Clubplanet Nightlife Community
Sign in to follow this  

U.S. Warned Not to Enter Baghdad Slum

Recommended Posts

U.S. Warned Not to Enter Baghdad Slum

Muslim Cleric Dismisses U.S. Apology for Toppling Banner as Insufficient

By Anthony Shadid

Washington Post Foreign Service

Friday, August 15, 2003; 4:53 PM

BAGHDAD, Aug. 15 -- In a sermon to thousands of worshipers in Baghdad's largest slum, a militant Shiite Muslim cleric warned American forces today not to reenter the neighborhood and dismissed as insufficient an apology from U.S. officials for the toppling of a religious banner that set off a protest this week in which an Iraqi was killed.

The statement was the latest in a back-and-forth between U.S. officials and influential clerics in the neighborhood, whose numbers alone -- 3 million residents -- make it pivotal in the politics of Baghdad. U.S. officials have said gusts from a low-flying helicopter accidentally knocked over the black flag, which fluttered atop a transmission tower. Residents, already disenchanted with the lack of electricity and basic services, said they saw a soldier either kick or try to cut it down.

In the protest that ensued Wednesday, U.S. forces killed one Iraqi -- a boy of 10 or 11, residents said -- and wounded at least three. Both sides say the other fired first. U.S. officials have said they are investigating the incident, which marked some of the sharpest tension between U.S. forces and Iraq's Shiite majority since the overthrow of president Saddam Hussein's government on April 9.

"What happened clearly shows that America and international Zionism have declared war on Islam," said Sheik Hadi Darraji, a leading cleric in the neighborhood, who delivered the sermon to a crowd of as many as 10,000.

He warned that Iraqis would "retaliate twice as hard" against anyone who attacked "us or our sacred symbols" and said the events of the past week showed that "there are no differences between Saddam and America."

In a news conference Thursday, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. ground troops here, said military commanders had apologized to the neighborhood's clergy and promised that "we're not going to let this happen again."

But Darraji insisted the apology come from a higher-ranking official, presumably L. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator of Iraq. He reiterated demands that U.S. forces stage a "complete and comprehensive withdrawal" from Sadr City, provide compensation to families of the dead and wounded and agree to the demands in a written statement in both English and Arabic.

Wearing a funeral shawl, meant to symbolize his willingness to sacrifice himself, Darraji gave them what he described as a short period to agree. "After that, we're not responsible for the reactions of the people if the Americans enter again," he said.

In their statements since the unrest, the clergy have been careful not to issue a call for arms, given the U.S. crackdown that would likely invite. In today's sermon, Darraji urged worshipers not to act except on the clergy's orders.

A U.S. military spokesman said talks were continuing with the clergy and that officials took the incident "very seriously." But another spokesman, also speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested it was unlikely U.S. forces would actually withdraw.

"There is no policy of no-go areas anywhere in Iraq," he said.

The neighborhood, which bore the brunt of some of Hussein's heaviest repression over the past decade and welcomed his fall, has remained quiet since the unrest Wednesday. But today thousands surged through the streets toward the site of the clash, where Friday prayers were held along a broad thoroughfare. The marches were organized by a faction loyal to Moqtada Sadr, the son of a slain ayatollah who has repeatedly denounced the occupation and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Carrying Iraqi flags and religious banners, Darraji's sermon was repeatedly interrupted by chants. "No, no to America," they shouted. Some carried portraits of the elder Sadr and his son. One banner read, "Yes, yes to Moqtada, no, no to the council."

In the street, a makeshift market sprung up, where pictures of the helicopter near the transmission tower sold for about 50 cents. Other vendors hawked newspapers published by Sadr's faction, devotional CDs, pictures of the elder Sadr and portraits of descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who Shiites believe inherited leadership of the Muslim community after Muhammad's death in 632. Worshipers carried umbrellas and threw towels over their heads under a relentless sun, and young men sprayed water over the crowd.

"It will be massacres if the Americans enter again," said Rahim Mahmoud, a 47-year-old mechanic who sat amid the crowds, some kneeling on Persian-designed prayer carpets, others on straw mats and cheap rugs. "It will be a war in the streets."

Mustafa Saad, an 18-year-old cobbler, stood nearby. "Saddam could not defeat us, and neither can the Americans," he said.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this