Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Civil Disobedience, Iraqi Style: And American Troops Teach Freedom of Speech

Muqtada al-Sadr is that Iraqi Shiite cleric who rules "Sadr City," a Baghdad slum, and who hasn't been heard from since he magnanimously, or prudently, extended a cease-fire.

He's back.

The headline is "Peaceful Iraq protests spark clashes; 50 reported dead" CNN (March 25, 2008).

"Fighting between Iraqi security forces and supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left 50 dead in the southern city of Basra and spread to several Baghdad districts Tuesday, Iraqi officials said.

"The fighting erupted as al-Sadr's political organization launched a nationwide civil disobedience movement to protest recent arrests of its members.

"The discord threatens to unravel a much-praised cease-fire by the cleric's militia, the Mehdi Army, which U.S. commanders have credited with helping ease the sectarian warfare that gripped Iraq in 2006."

An official in al-Sadr's political organization, Nassar al-Rubaie, says he knows who caused the violence. There are provincial elections scheduled for October 1. "The police and army forces are used for political reasons," he said. He could be right.

There's trouble elsewhere, too. "Residents of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and its major oil port, held demonstrations earlier this month to demand better security. Kidnappings, murders and thefts have risen since British troops handed over responsibility for the province to Iraqi soldiers and police in December and withdrew to a base at the city's airport."

I think that Iraqi agencies will be able to take care of their own country. Eventually.

I also think that today's Basra is a good preview of what will happen, if America decides to scuttle the coalition and leave Iraq without giving the Iraqi government time to sort itself out from the crooks and wannabe warlords.

Meanwhile, there's what I think is good news. American soldiers are showing Iraqis what "freedom of speech" means to Americans.

"In the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Disher, news footage showed empty streets, closed stores and empty schools, and a few dozen protesters were seen taking to the streets. Signs reading 'Yes yes Iraq' and 'No no America' were tacked up on walls, as was a sign saying 'no' to government militias, a reference to the Badr Brigade.

"Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said American commanders don't frown on such a civil disobedience campaign 'as long as it's peaceful.'

" 'We have no problem with that,' Boylan said. 'Shouting is OK. Shooting is not.' "

"Shouting is OK. Shooting is not." Well said.

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