Representatives of Iraq’s most influential Shiite leaders are demanding that extremist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr withdraw his militia units from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The Shiite leaders also want Sadr’s gunmen to stop using the mosques in those cities as arsenals and to return power to Iraqi police and civil defense units. The Shiite leaders are calling for a quick return to U.S.-led negotiations on Iraq’s future.
A representative of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, which has close ties to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, told the New York Times newspaper that Iraqi Shiites have overwhelmingly rejected Sadr and his militia’s violence. “He’s one-hundred percent isolated across most of the southern provinces; he’s even isolated in Najaf,” the SCIRI representative said. “The people there regard him as having taken them hostage.”
On May 5th, Moqtada al-Sadr’s gunmen fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and machine guns at U.S. and Bulgarian troops in Karbala. One coalition soldier and about ten Sadr militiamen were killed in the ensuing battle.
President George W. Bush says that Moqtada al-Sadr is trying to deny Iraqis a free choice by seizing power violently:
"The violence we have seen is a power grab by these extreme and ruthless elements. It's not a civil war. It's not a popular uprising.”
President Bush says that despite violence by Moqtada al-Sadr and other extremists, the U.S. and its coalition partners will not step back from their pledge to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30th.