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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 April, 2004, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Analysis: US gamble on toughness

By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs editor, Baghdad

There is always a danger in playing up crises like this and giving the impression that disaster is just at hand.

But here in Baghdad, a lot of the politicians on the Iraqi governing council think it is true.

US Marines stand guard at a railway on the outskirts of Fallujah
Americans are criticised for playing into the hands of extremists
They are the ones who will be taking nominal control of the country on 1 July.

Last night I asked one of the senior political advisers with the council if he was depressed.

"No, I am not. I am angry," he said.

"This was all completely avoidable."

People like him feel the Americans have just played into the hands of the extremists by letting themselves be drawn into a war, or at any rate a crisis on two fronts

  • Falluja, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim and is now violently anti-American
  • the Shia Muslim towns of southern Iraq

Although most of the Shia are not followers of Moqtada Sadr, the Shia cleric who is now being hunted by the Americans, they do deeply resent the tactics the Americans are using against him.

Sadr was not particularly highly regarded before this crisis though his father, the ayatollah after whom Sadr City in Baghdad is now named was extremely popular.

The American military have got no time for the British softly-softly approach. They believe they have got to show who is boss
Moqtada Sadr was something of a tearaway who gathered a small army of thugs around himself.

Now, because the Americans have decided to take them on, he and his Mehdi army have suddenly assumed the status of defenders of the faith.

'Resolute Sword'

The Americans didn't have to fight him now, they chose to do it.

You can gauge their mood by the names they give their operations: "Vigilant Resolve" in Falluja, "Resolute Sword" against Sadr's militia.

The American military have got no time for the British softly-softly approach.

Insurgents in Falluja
Local leaders say the timing couldn't have been worse
They believe they have got to show who is boss.

What worries the Iraqi politicians even more is the timing of it all.

Shia pilgrims are gathering in their hundreds of thousands in the holy city of Karbala to mark the end of a period of mourning for their faith's figurehead, Imam Hussein, who was martyred in the seventh century.

Feelings will be running extremely high.

It is the worst possible time to find yourself in conflict with the Shias.

It is possible the Iraqi politicians will have managed to persuade Sadr to do a climbdown by then.

They are certainly trying to, but if not, they could have even more grounds for depression.


SEE ALSO:
US battles for control of cities
09 Apr 04  |  Middle East


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