Friday, August 13, 2004

Here We Go Again

Bad memories from Fallujah. Iraqi officials and Al-Sadr aides are talking about another truce today, while the U.S. military, which had pushed into Najaf, now pauses. If the cleric gets his way, the U.S. pulls back again, all Mahdi Army fighters will be released, and no Americans will patrol in Najaf.

U.S. troops and Iraqi officials want to ensure that any new truce would eliminate the flaws of the previous truces, which ended a two-month uprising in early June. Al-Sadr militants repeatedly violated that cease-fire, shooting at police and burying caches of weapons in the cemetery and using the time to regroup, according to U.S. officials and witnesses. [AP report]

Brilliant. And how do you possibly prevent that from happening, when the "militants" are a civilian force in civilian clothes, not a regular army? In a cemetery the size of a city, where people bring in big boxes by the dozens every day? Next to a vast building where the enemy already knows you don't dare set foot?

The U.S. doesn't win such a contest by making another deal. Al Sadr knows this. Each day he continues to "negiatiate," his legend and his power grow.

By Friday afternoon, there was no sign of U.S. or Iraqi forces inside the old city and there were no sounds of clashes.

"We are now celebrating the victory. This means the defeat of the other side," al-Sadr aide Ahmed al-Shaibany said.

Meanwhile, here's a great endorsement for the impartial press, courtesy of an item buried in the Knight Ridder wire service Iraq story today.

A kidnapped British journalist was released Friday with minor injuries less than 24 hours after gunmen seized him from a hotel in the southern port city of Basra. James Brandon, 23, on assignment for the Sunday Telegraph, was shown in a video on satellite television with kidnappers who threatened to kill him unless U.S. troops withdrew from Najaf, the holiest of southern Shiite cities. Brandon reportedly was released after al-Sadr aides intervened on his behalf.

"Journalists are our brothers, our friends," said Sheik Salah al Ubaidi, an al-Sadr spokesman in Baghdad. "They reflect our opinions and convey our voices to all of the world."

Ain't I proud of my profession today?