We've all been hungry for some confirmed news. This update just appeared in the online NY Times
, and covers the geographical extent of today's violence, along with some quotes re Sadr's relationship to Sistani. It'll have to do until we get more.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 6 - American forces in Iraq came under fierce attack from both Sunnis and Shiites on Tuesday, with about a dozen marines killed in the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi and rebel Shiite militiamen stepping up a three-day-old assault in the southern holy city of Najaf, American officials said.
In Falluja, where last week American security contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated, American warplanes fired rockets at houses, and marines drove armored columns into the heart of the city, where they fought block by block to flush out insurgents. Several arrests were made.
It was one of the most violent days in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, with half a dozen cities ignited. One of the biggest questions at day's end was the role of Shiites previously thought to be relatively sympathetic to American goals.
The heaviest fighting raged in Falluja and Ramadi, Sunni strongholds that have been flashpoints of anti-American resistance since the conflict began.
Correspondents based in Falluja who work for Arab television stations reported widespread damage to homes from the firing and difficulties in getting wounded Iraqis to the hospital because the fighting was so fierce. Falluja hospital officials, quoted by The Associated Press, said they received 16 Iraqi dead on Tuesday and more than 20 wounded, among them women and children.
The attack in Ramadi was on an American base at the governor's palace, and it involved several dozen insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, a Defense Department official said.
``The indications are they were well-trained,'' the official said. The official said the insurgents had suffered large numbers of casualties, but cautioned that reports from Iraq, where it was the middle of the night, were still early and sketchy.
Note Sadr's position now in Najaf, near Ali's Tomb (see below). Any attempt to take him there would be fraught with difficulty. In addition, Thursday is a religious holiday. It doesn't get any earier for Bremer.
Meanwhile, Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric who is wanted by American forces in connection with a brutal killing last year, continued to invigorate his followers. In a statement issued on Tuesday from Najaf, Mr. Sadr urged disciples to keep up the fight against occupying forces.
``America has shown its evil intentions,'' Mr. Sadr said, ``and the proud Iraqi people cannot accept it. They must defend their rights by any means they see fit.''
He also aligned himself with the country's most influential religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
``I proclaim my solidarity with Ali Sistani and he should know that I am his military wing in Iraq,'' Mr. Sadr said.
Mr. Sadr, whose followers launched the most serious insurrection of the post-invasion period starting on Sunday, said, ``I will put the city with the golden dish between Ali Sistani's hands after liberation.''
The golden dish refers to the golden shrines of Najaf, some of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. Najaf, south of Baghdad, is the home of Ayatollah Sistani, who is considered much more moderate than Mr. Sadr. On Sunday, Ayatollah Sistani issued a religious decree urging Iraq's Shiites to stay calm.
So far, though, Mr. Sadr's followers have not been heeding it. Day after day, the black clad militiamen have rolled over Iraqi security forces in a number of cities, including Kufa, Najaf, Nasiriya, Basra and Baghdad, and taken over government offices. The string of successes seems to inflate Mr. Sadr's popularity and draw more recruits to his Mahdi Army, a private militia that attracts both idle youth and adults with jobs. In some cities, like Kufa, his followers have completely replaced police and security forces, essentially establishing an occupation-free zone and patrolling towns in blue and white government cars that just days ago were driven by members of the newly formed security forces.
Mr. Sadr has moved from a mosque in Kufa, where he was holed up on Monday, to his main office in Najaf, in an alley near the city's holiest shrine. Hundreds of militiamen were protecting the office. On Tuesday night, military flares could be seen burning over the area. (...)
Perhaps later tonight there'll be more in the Brit papers. Feel free to add those links in the comments if you find them.
Update [2004-4-6 23:29:45 by DemFromCT]: Check out this story in the WaPo:
Clashes in Iraq Threaten to Undermine Political Process
"We've reached a moment of truth here with both Fallujah and Sadr," said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy, referring to the Shiite Muslim cleric, Moqtada Sadr, whose militia began clashing with the Americans on Sunday. "We have to get both right, or there are serious questions about whether this political transition can go forward."