Moqtada al-Sadr is a better strategist than George W. Bush. That’s one of
the lessons of the second American siege of Najaf in four months. His
ragtag army has held the world’s greatest power at bay for three weeks by
misusing a sacred site.

This was a confrontation al-Sadr could not have lost and America could not
possibly have won, and should never have got dragged into.

That it did, shows, yet again, its imperial arrogance as well as ignorance
of the history and culture of a nation it’s trying to subdue mostly with
brute force.

Would America have dared turn the Vatican or the Wailing Wall into a war
zone, regardless of circumstance? That is the issue, not who started the
battle at the Imam Ali Mosque, and who won how many metres when.

It is the holiest shrine to the world’s 120 million Shiites, being the
burial place of Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the first
Shiite imam.

In treating the siege as another skirmish in an uneasy occupation,
Washington and the media have missed the significance of what has transpired.

The siege angered even the majority Sunnis among the world’s 1.2 billion
Muslims. Many issued anguished pleas for international intervention.

Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis closed ranks. Among the 10,000 people who came to
Najaf bearing food and medicine or offering to join the battle, were Sunnis
from Fallujah – themselves survivors of an ill-advised U.S. onslaught in

It does not really matter that U.S. Marines avoided directly hitting the
shrine. Or, that in case of a showdown, it would be Iraqi, not American,
troops who would storm in. Or that Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, not
Bush, has been calling the shots, even if that were believable.

The real news is that America thought nothing of violating the sanctity of
a sacred Muslim site.

Gunfire punctured holes in the shrine’s famous gold dome. Its serene marble
courtyard, lately littered with shrapnel, has been echoing to the sounds of
gunfire, not the Qu’ran.

American bombers, helicopter gunships, tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy
machine guns have been pounding the adjoining historic old city, damaging
pilgrim hotels and guesthouses.

The neighbourhood, alive for centuries with the visiting faithful, has been
ordered emptied and turned into a ghost town. No one knows how many
civilians have been killed or injured..


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