Loyalists of al-Sadr seize Iraqi TV station
Do not adjust your tv set… Sunni-Shi’ite Jihad Update from McClatchy Newspapers:
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis “terrorists” and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms.
The two-hour broadcast from a community gathering in the heart of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City included three members of al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, who took questions from outraged residents demanding revenge for a series of car bombings that killed some 200 people Thursday.
With Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki relegated to the sidelines, brazen Sunni-Shiite attacks continue unchecked despite a 24-hour curfew in Baghdad. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia now controls wide swaths of the capital, his politicians are the backbone of the Cabinet and his followers deeply entrenched in the Iraqi security forces. Sectarian violence has spun so rapidly out of control since the Sadr City blasts, however, that it’s not clear whether even al-Sadr has the authority — or the will — to stop the cycle of bloodshed.
“This is live and, God willing, everyone will hear me: We are not interested in sidewalks, water services or anything else. We want safety,” an unidentified Sadr City resident said as the televised crowd cheered. “We want the officials. They say there is no sectarian war. No, it is sectarian war, and that’s the truth.”
Militia leaders told supporters Saturday to prepare for a fresh wave of incursions into Sunni neighborhoods that would begin as soon as the curfew ends Monday, according to Sadr City residents. Several members of the Mahdi Army boasted they were distributing police uniforms throughout Shiite neighborhoods to allow greater freedom of movement. The government announced it would partially lift the curfew today to allow for pedestrian traffic.
Al-Maliki’s administration acknowledged it was powerless to interrupt the pro-Sadr program on the official Iraqiya channel, during which Sadr City residents shouted, “There is no government! There is no state!” Several speakers described neighborhoods and well-known Sunni politicians as “terrorists” and threatened them with reprisal.
“We’ll obviously try to control them as much as we can, but when they [lose] more than 150 people in bombings, they have the right to speak,” said Bassam al-Husseini, one of al-Maliki’s top advisers. “What are we going to do? We can’t stop this. It’s too hot right now.”