Between the lines: have US spin doctors found a role for the Shi'ite population of southern Iraq as the `new' Kurds in this latest conflict?

Author:Shahin, Mariam
Position:Current Affairs

A new chapter in modern history appeared to be on the horizon as Baghdad came under attack during the early hours of 20 March. Bombing the tyrant and his regime into submission, his down-trodden masses were expected to meet the foreign invaders with flowers and rice.

The expected easy entry into the vast "south" of the country did not immediately materialise and the eventual welcome was similar to the one the British received in 1917--before a bloody war was waged against them. The south is home to the vast majority of the country's population and in particular its poor and oppressed. The region also boasts Iraq's most developed oil fields. Early on, the world, which became a 24 hour-a-day observer, was told that the oil fields were being secured, and that there had been "resistance" from Saddam's fedayeen, an Arabic word which much of the western media translated as "Saddam's fighters", when really it means "freedom fighters".

Those in the know are aware that many of the fighters were in fact ordinary people from the south, who were wary of invading foreigners. Those fighting for the "coalition of the willing" bulldozed their way all the way to Baghdad, killing `suspicious characters', including women and children all along the route. When they got to Baghdad they started targeting known journalistic centres, claiming the sighting of snipers and the like.

It would appear that the much sought after south of Iraq, its heart and mind are the real thermometers of how successful the coalition invasion and proxy rule will be. Iraqis are a special lot of people, and perhaps the most special of them are not the traditional lords of the land the Sunnis of the centre, nor the colourful Kurds in the north nor the dwindling Christians, remnants of the first Christian communities in the world, but the poor downtrodden Shi'ites of the south.

They easily represent 60% of the Iraqi population. I first encountered them on their home turf in March 1991 when, although journalists were banned from Baghdad, I hitched a ride with the Jordanian Red Crescent Society. In a humanitarian convoy of Quakers, Mennonites, Chaldeans and Human Rights Activists I travelled to the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala, an hour-long drive from Baghdad.

Once there, we were told not to leave our mini-van, because it was too dangerous to step outside. Indeed a local uprising, led by what the regime called "the destroyers", had recently been crushed and some of the human remnants were...

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