- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

BAGHDAD Shi'ite clergy are giving the orders and providing services that govern the daily lives of 2 million people in this city's teeming northern neighborhood.
To senior U.S. officials, the pattern holds great dangers for a democratic Iraqi future. To others, it is merely a natural assertion of participation in society by a previously sidelined majority.
"All orders are coming here from the ulemma in Najaf, our holiest city. They are secret orders that I cannot reveal to you," said Sayyid Khadoum Al-Mousayi, a white-turbaned cleric with a rank higher than a sheik and lower than an imam who has taken control of the subsection of Baghdad previously known as Saddam City.
After U.S.-led forces drove Saddam Hussein's regime from power, some in the neighborhood renamed it Thawra City. Others call it Sadr City, a reference to the most famous dynasty of Shi'ite rulers.
"We have been solving all the problems," Sayyid Al-Mousayi said to the enthusiastic affirmation of an entourage of around a dozen men sitting shoeless on mats around him. "We have dealt with food, communications, electricity, garbage collection and security."
Sayyid Al-Mousayi did not mention some of his other activities: weeding out staff from government institutions such as hospitals, and detaining looters and opponents in mosques.
Yet these all add up to something approaching a well-coordinated grab for local power based on fatwas, or religious rulings from a patchwork of sometimes conflicting imams in Najaf and even from Iraqi imams based in Iran.
Young men authorized by the Hawza seminary in Najaf are standing guard at street corners in plain gray uniforms, wielding Kalashnikov rifles.
The rise of self-proclaimed leaders and Islamic clerics in Iraq is providing a major challenge to U.S. efforts to introduce democracy but avert the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state.
Self-declared mayors have taken over in Baghdad and Kut, near the border with Iran, despite U.S. hostility and no evidence that democratic elections were held.
Said Abbas, the cleric who occupied the city hall in Kut, left peacefully Friday after U.S. Marines threatened to arrest him and charge him with theft of public property, a top Marine officer told the Associated Press yesterday.
In Najaf, in the south, and Mosul, in the north, Shi'ite Muslim clerics are vying for power as U.S. troops watch.
In other towns, villages and cities, it is not clear who is in charge in the chaos since removal of Saddam Hussein and his loyalists from power in the three-week U.S.-led war.
At the Thawra Hospital in Baghdad, close to narrow alleys where Sayyid Al-Mousayi lives modestly among the poor Shi'ites to whom he ministers, security men patrol in civilian clothes. They were all sent there by the same cleric.
"When we saw that looting had started on April 7," said the hospital manager who did want to be named, "we knew we could rely on our local mullahs, so we appealed to them and they responded."
Hospital doctors said that nothing was stolen from this hospital of more 300 beds, whereas, they noted, hospitals in other parts of Baghdad had been ransacked.
In fact, the doctors said, the hospital ran throughout the war, drawing in the wounded from other parts of the city.
"Every single doctor and every single worker turned up," the hospital manager said.
Saddam City pre-empted the final American push by conducting its own armed revolt against Ba'ath Party loyalists and Iraqi special forces in the area.
The hospital performed more than 300 full-scale operations on war wounded and other patients during the hostilities, the manager said.
Since the American forces arrived, the hospital's surgeons have operated on 400 persons who were shot during the lawlessness that followed the departure of Iraqi police.
Driving through the streets, Western reporters saw a young boy around 8 years old casually lugging an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle.
Gunfire was heard in profusion at one stage, but it turned out to be no more than celebratory fire to herald the return of electrical power to part of the neighborhood.
"We have so many weapons, so much shooting," one resident said, pointing to a man in the room whose 11-year-old was shot yesterday.
At a traffic island denoting the entrance to the Shi'ite stronghold is a white-and-green banner reading, "Sadr City welcomes visitors."
The drivers of two American tanks that rumbled toward the sign and a six-man foot patrol nearby would have noticed no warmth to their reception.
The attitude toward U.S. military presence here is a combination of hostility and suspicion of American intentions, and an insistence that the United States maintain security and help rebuild the country.
"We need American help but not American domination," said Sayyid Al-Mousayi. "And we will not oppose them if they behave correctly."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide