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Treading on Hallowed GroundCounterinsurgency Operations in Sacred Spaces$
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C. Christine Fair and Sumit Ganguly

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195342048

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195342048.001.0001

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Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq's Sacred Spaces

Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq's Sacred Spaces

(p.140) 6 Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq's Sacred Spaces
Treading on Hallowed Ground

David Siddhartha Patel

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses upon two uprisings in 2004 in Najaf, one of the holiest cities in Shi'ite Islam and home to the revered Imam Ali shrine. In the first uprising, in April 2004, U.S. army forces immediately attacked insurgents elsewhere in Iraq but deferred significant offensive operations against those in Najaf by four weeks. During those operations, they did not pursue insurgents into Najaf's Old City or the shrine. The second uprising occurred in August in 2004 and was put down by U.S. Marines. In contrast, the Marines immediately attacked insurgents throughout Najaf, reducing their exclusion zone around the shrine and around abandoned no-fire zones. The chapter asks why, despite similar risks, did U.S. forces aggressively pursue insurgents in Najaf's sacred spaces in August but not in April? It argues that the most important variable explaining the two different outcomes was the nature of the government at the time of the operations. In April, Iraq was governed by Paul Bremer, III, who was the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). In contrast, by August the CPA had been dissolved and “power” was transferred to an appointed Iraqi Interim Government with Iyad Allawi as the prime minister. Allawi's government vociferously supported decisive action against insurgents in Najaf in August. The support of this nominally sovereign Iraqi government may explain the later U.S. willingness to assault Najaf's sacred sites. Earlier in the year, U.S. planners were unwilling to do so because they were uncertain about how Iraq's Shi'ites would respond.

Keywords:   counterinsurgency, U.S. forces, insurgents, Iraq, Najaf, Shi'ites

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