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5/18/04 - FIGHTING THE ENEMIES OF FREEDOM - 2004-05-18

In Iraq, Shiite extremists, former Saddam Hussein regime elements, and foreign terrorists are trying to derail the U.S.-led coalition’s June 30th hand-over of political authority to an Iraqi interim government.

Some of these efforts are being incited by Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr is a radical Shiite Muslim leader backed by Iranians. He is wanted for the murder in April 2003 of a respected Shiite cleric, Abdul Majid al-Khoei.

Coalition authority administrator Paul Bremer says Moqtada al-Sadr is using his private militia, the so-called Mahdi army, to spread lawlessness, fear, and economic paralysis throughout Iraq:

“These lawless elements, who attempt to advance the interests of one group at the expense of everyone else, have engaged in armed attacks. They have occupied and looted public and private property by force of arms. They have stored arms and munitions in the mosques of Iraq’s holy cities. They have operated outside the rule of law by conducting their own courts and prisons. This must stop.”

The Iraqi people are getting fed up with Moqtada al-Sadr and his tactics. Pressure is mounting for him to disband his militia. A representative of Iraq’s leading Shiite, Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, has condemned Sadr’s “acts of sabotage, chaos, and takeover of public property.” Demonstrations against Moqtada al-Sadr have been held in the holy city of Najaf. Meanwhile, coalition forces are closing in on the Mahdi army in Najaf and in the nearby city of Karbala.

The coalition “has no intention of leaving Iraq at the mercy of thugs and murderers,” says President George W. Bush:

”Illegal militias and remnants of the regime, joined by foreign terrorists, are trying to take by force the power they could never gain by the ballot. Militias in Najaf and elsewhere must disarm or face grave consequences. American and coalition forces are in place, and we are prepared to enforce order in Iraq.” As the hand-over of power to the Iraqi people draws near, the days of the enemies of Iraqi freedom are numbered.