"I was on the roof trying to get my BGan to connect when Najaf’s finest burst onto the roof with a Kalashnikov and order me and the other journalists down to the lobby. The cops had raided the hotel and forced all the journalists out onto the street. We were terrified. The cops yelled at us and pointed their weapons toward us. Several large trucks were waiting and knew we would be loaded onto them. Then they started shooting.
“Yella, yella” they ordered us. BANG BANG! They fired their weapons just over our heads forcing us to crouch. The foreign journalists and the Arab media were separated into separate trucks and we were all brought to the police station at gunpoint. On the way, they continued to scream at us and point their weapons in our faces. I tried to put my money in my bag, but a young police officer thrust his Kalashnikov at me and rifled through my bag.
Finally, we made it to the police station. My friend Phillip urged me to ride it out, be calm, smile a little. Then we were herded into the police chief’s office for the most bizarre press conference of my life.
The Shrine would be stormed tonight, he said, and we would be allowed to get on a bus and go visit it tomorrow to see the damage the Mahdi Army had done to it. The Sistani protesters in Kufa were really Mahdi guys and they had to be killed. Oh, and thank you for coming."
The Guardian has a story on this here. The San Jose Mercury is also coverring this story. (Registration may be required... if so, use http://www.bugmenot.com ..)
I wonder whether these police are some of the same assholes who fired on Sistani's followers today and attacked people while they were praying at Kufa's mosque. I would ordinarily think that Sadr's folks may have done it by mistake, but many of Sadr's followers were praying in that mosque too, and the mosque in question is one in which Sadr routinely gave the prayers at prior to the conflict.
Sure, the Iraqi police in Najaf have had it rough, and have been mercilessly attacked by Sadr's followers, but they also need to realize that they don't really control Najaf, any more than the Swiss Guard controls the Vatican. Ultimate control of Najaf resides in the prominent religious leaders of Iraq, and the most prominent of them all is Sistani. It's a very dangerous and stupid thing for the Iraqi police and national guard to alienate Sistani *AND* the press at the same time, because the conclusion that Sistani is likely to draw is the same that Sadr drew a long time ago -- that security for Najaf should be handled entirely by the clergy.
Sistani seemingly slept through the whole invasion and occupation of Iraq up to this point, avoiding becoming both a religious and secular leader. The U.S. appointed interim Iraqi government, however, seems to be giving him no choice other than to get more involved in secular affairs. If they are wise they will let Sistani sort things out and let sleeping dogs lie.
...and meanwhile, Iraq's oil infrastructure has been attacked again.
And as yet another example of why peace in Najaf is more important than whether Sadr gets brought to justice or not, a story out of Turkey reports that 250 Iranians recently volunteered for suicide operations in Iraq, citing US involvement in the Najaf crisis as the main reason. While the Iranian government doesn't appear to be supporting these efforts, they can't really put a stop to them either, even if they tried.
One of the expressed intents of the war in Iraq was to help democratize its neighbors. All the evidence suggests, however, that the opposite is happening.