RealNews

Najaf battle a crucial test for Allawi

Thursday, tanks sealed off all approaches to Najaf’s Old City, while 2,000 US marines and 1,800 Iraqi forces closed in. US forces stormed Mr. Sadr’s home, but he wasn’t there. It’s just a matter of time, US military officials say, before the radical cleric and his militia are expelled from one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, the Shrine of Imam Ali. For Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, this is a crucial test of the strength of his government, barely a month and a half old, and a first chance to extend government authority over a key part of Iraq, most of which remains under the control of armed militias and insurgents. “The attack in Najaf is a strategic one, with limited US costs, against Sadr’s ragtag militia that doesn’t enjoy local support,” says Toby Dodge, a Middle East expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. “Sadr is a symptom of a security vacuum in Iraq. The US military does not have enough forces on the ground to take control of the country. Even if you defeat Sadr, that still leaves a majority of the population living under the control of militias and insurgents.” Full Story

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