Moqtadr al-Sadr demonstration in Najaf, curiouser and curiouser

Where is Moqtada getting his support from? The U.S.? Iran? Both?

The widely publicized anti-American demonstration in Najaf today supplied a few curious details and more than a little cognitive dissonance. Consider the following details:

~The demonstration was put on by Moqtadr’s supporters.
~Although security was provided by Iraqis, Americans were consulted about the security details.
~Americans provided air support for the demonstration’s security.
~A prepared speech by Moqtadr denouncing the U.S. was read at the rally. It referred to the four year anniversary of the toppling of the Saddam statue.
~American officials made cheerful statements. Official military spokesman Steven Boylan gushed that the Iraqis

“couldn’t have done this four years ago. This is the right to assemble, the right to free speech–they didn’t have that under the former regime. This is progress, there’s no two ways about it.”

~Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, who depends on Moqtada for political support, was conveniently in Japan at the time, discussing loans for rebuilding Iraq.
~Moqtadr has not surfaced since the U.S. said he had returned to Iran for the Feb. 14 troop surge at the request of the U.S.
~Moqtadr’s supporters say he’s in Iraq.
~While Moqtadr’s supporters were demonstrating against the American presence, American troops were busy in the town of Diwaniya, fighting al-Sadr militiamen who had refused Moqtada’s call for them to stop fighting. Rumor says there are several Moqtada militias that have broken off from Moqtada and are operating independently. Is the U.S. taking care of a rogue militia for Moqtada?
~Wars and demonstrations in the Islamic world always start on a Friday after mosque.
~The action in Diwaniya started on a Friday. It was initiated by the Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the main rival to the al-Sadr organization.
~The demonstration in Najaf started on a Monday. Businesses were closed down, vehicles were prohibited from the city, buses rerouted. Lots of planning.
~A small number of Sunnis joined the demonstration, including the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading fundamentalist Sunni Arab group.
~Al-Jazeera reported Israeli flags drawn on the ground, which the crowd stepped on with their shoes, an insult in the Arab culture. So was this really an anti-American rally, a show of strength for Moktadr as a message to Shiite cleric al-Sistani, or just a matter of “round up the usual scapegoats”?
~ While the widely reprinted AP story waxed eloquent over “a sea of women in black abayas”, I counted 34 black abayas in only one NYT photo. All other photos of the demonstration showed only men. Arab women rarely march in demonstrations.

najafflag-cropped2.jpgSo tell me, was this dissent, as the military spokesmen so jauntily exulted, or was it a government-sponsored demonstration?

And hey, aren’t they still using that Iraqi flag with Saddam’s own handwriting on it?

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