October 1, 2004

Offensive in Samarra' - A Better Plan?

On October 1, American forces (elements of the 1st Infantry Division) and at least three battalions of Iraqi forces (army and national guard) began operations in Samarra' today, and it appears that operations in Ramadi and Fallujah may be starting as well.

Samarra' is in the Sunni triangle and a center of insurgent activity, but is a holy city for Shi'a Islam. The Golden Mosque is also known as the Imam 'Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hasan Al-'Askari mosque. They are the 10th and 11th imams of Shi'a Islam and two of the "14 Infallibles."

Samarra' is also the birthplace of the twelfth imam, Imam Muhammad Al-Mahdi (and son of Hasan Al-'Askari). His shrine, not his tomb, is adjacent to the Golden Mosque. It is not his tomb, because in Twelver Shi'a, so named for the 12th imam, it is believed that he is still alive but in hiding and will return prior to the day of judgement to establish justice on earth. Twelver Shi'a are dominant in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon - it is the main sect of Shi'a Islam.

Samarra' is also the site of a historic Sunni mosque with the famed spiral minaret - the "Malwiya" - (165 feet high), dating from the 9th century.

When the troops went into the city, this time they appeared to have done it smartly. Iraqi troops immediately seized and secured the Golden Mosque, averting any claims that the "infidels" were desecrating a holy site.

The Iraqis and US have to clear out the five major insurgent strongholds: Fallujah, Samarra', Ramadi, Sadr City and Haifa Street (Baghdad). They have to do this not only before the elections scheduled for January, but in time for the Iraqis to open voter registration sites. These are sure to be targets for the insurgents.