Sadr Situation 'Will Have to Change,' Rumsfeld Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2004 The Iraqi government will eventually have to deal with the problem of renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia, DoD's senior civilian told a noted journalist Aug. 17.
It would seem to be a difficult task for the interim Iraqi government to run the country, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told PBS television news host Jim Lehrer, while allowing Sadr's militia "to seize portions of a city or cities and kill innocent Iraqis and consistently oppose that government."
Sadr and his followers have defiantly refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the interim Iraqi government. Mahdi Army fighters have carried out a series of attacks in the holy city of Najaf and other towns since Aug. 5, targeting government officials and facilities, as well as U.S. troops.
"At some point," Rumsfeld told Lehrer, the situation involving Sadr "will have to change," noting Iraqi officials have repeatedly tried "negotiations and the like" in attempts to placate the cleric.
The cleric still refuses to disband his militia, and he recently rejected yet another offer of amnesty from the interim government.
Sadr, Rumsfeld observed, "has developed a pattern of offering to negotiate and discuss and then at the last minute not doing it." Sadr led a previous uprising in April that ended in a cease-fire. The young Shiite cleric, reportedly age 30 or so, has acted in an "unstable manner," Rumsfeld pointed out. Sadr, he noted, "is going to have to stop behaving that way."
Rumsfeld said the U.S. military in Iraq stands ready to assist the interim government in subduing Sadr and his militia. However, the radical cleric and about 1,000 of his followers are reportedly now holed up inside and around a holy shrine in Najaf.
Because of Muslim sensibilities concerning possible foreign-caused damage to holy sites, Rumsfeld noted, "it's unlikely that the U.S. forces would be the ones" to dig out Sadr from the shrine. That job, he explained, would belong to Iraqi forces "because it's such a significant thing to the religion."
The preferred choice in resolving the Sadr situation, Rumsfeld emphasized, "is always a peaceful solution, a diplomatic solution." Yet, the secretary acknowledged, a peaceful result might not be in the cards.
The Iraqi government, Rumsfeld noted, will likely tire of having Sadr's followers "running around killing innocent Iraqis and firing off mortars and artillery pieces and rocket-propelled grenades and taking over a city indefinitely."