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Imam Ali Mosque: Is There a Historical Precedent?

Reported by Marie Therese - August 19, 2004 -

The O'Reilly Factor, August 18, 2004. 8:29 PM to 8:33 PM EDT. (Also August 17, 2004. 8:47 PM to 8:51 PM EDT)

For two days, the O'Reilly Factor has scheduled military analysts demanding that we ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf. On 8/17 Lt. Col. Bob McGinnis and subsitute host, John Kasich, armchair quarterbacked the situation. Al Sadr is a "nut case," a "fraud", and according to McGinnis leads a "disenfranchised youthful population that didn't have a purpose on a job before Saddam fell and subsequently don't have any direction in life."

On the 18th, Jed Babbin, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under Bush One, advocates the "It's the Iranians, stupid" approach to what's happening in Najaf and posits that we should reclassify a known Iranian terrorist group (unnamed in the interview) and unleash them back into Iran to wreck havoc on the mullahs, whom they oppose.

It's all over the news today that there's intensified fighting going on in Najaf.

The plan - touted for weeks on FOX and other news channels - is that any incursion into the Imam Ali shrine must be done by Iraqi troops. Under no circumstances should Americans set foot in the shrine.

The other little tidbit that's been floated out there - by way of seeding 'plausible deniability" for the Bush administration - is that al-Sadr or foreign fighters or someone else has planted bombs throughout the shrine. That way, if the worst happens, and the shrine goes up in smoke, blame can be laid at the feet of the "insurgents".


I was reminded of another assault on another historic edifice.

From History of the Bastille:

"All of the planning had been done, all of the arrangements made, and all of the contingencies carefully thought out; everything was ready. As the morning of July 14th 1789 dawned, the mob gathered, heading for the thick, foreboding walls of the hated Bastille. Guarded by eighty-two aging veterans and reinforced by only thirty-two Swiss mercenaries, the besiegers, numbering near a thousand, felt that they could easily overwhelm the political prison. The defenders of the Bastille, not fearing the onslaught proposed by the attackers, spent the previous week repairing a long since damaged drawbridge, boarding windows, and reinforcing walls. They were not worried, expecting only a mob attack. However, three hundred French soldiers deserted their ranks to join in the attack. Had it not been for these soldiers, the Bastille would not have been taken. As it was, the besiegers quickly broke through the gates, and, despite the threat of 20,000 pounds of gun power igniting, destroying everything in the violent explosion, won the fortified prison." (End of excerpt)

The commanders of the French army at the time were from another country, Austria, the birthplace of the French queen, Marie Antoinette, a situation that did not sit well with the rank and file of the French army.

Will history repeat itself? Are we seeing the end of an insurgency or the beginning of a national revolution?

Barring a negotiated solution (which seems less likely as time goes on), will the Iraqi police and soldiers follow orders and, acting as frontline shock troops, dutifully storm the Imam Ali shrine, killing or capturing al-Sadr and disbanding his militia? Or, will they refuse direct orders and leave the scene or do what the 300 French soldiers did, turn their guns on the foreigners?

I suggest that, if the former happens, this is just an insurgency and will eventually peter out.

If the latter, it would be better to pack our bags and go home, because it would mean that the Iraqis are in the incipient stages of a national revolution.

Only time will tell.