All's fair in war, but this? - Ed Brock

I've been told that I shouldn't complain about the mistakes of our leaders unless I can present a better option.

First, I'll point out that I write this column, first because I have to and secondly because it gives me an option to vent my emotions. Sometimes I just don't get around to laying out a specific alternative, but I think just pointing out a mistake is itself constructive if it helps us to avoid making that mistake in the future.

With that said, I'll say that frankly I can't think of a better way we could handle this mess in Najaf. We've shown remarkable restraint and my disappointment this week is most assuredly with the Iraqis, both those on our side and those we are fighting.

First and foremost, I have nothing but disdain for Muqtada al-Sadr, the cleric leading the resistance in Najaf who has holed himself up in the super-holy Imam Ali shrine. This chucklehead has the nerve to say he's there to protect the shrine?

If he wanted to protect the shrine then he would LEAVE!

No, it's very, very obvious what al-Sadr is doing. He is very deliberately using the shrine as a shield, much like the old tactic of setting up guns near hospitals and orphanages to use the innocent occupants of those facilities as human shields.

But his tactic is far more effective, because an attack on a hospital would not have nearly the ramifications of an attack on this shrine. But if it is so important to the Shiite majority in Iraq, why do so many of them flock to al-Sadr's side.

They should be flocking to stone him!

If America was invaded and one of our resistance fighters chose to use a holy site for a shield I would have a serious problem with that man. But, then again, in a war you have to do what you have to do.

So why does al-Sadr feel like this is what he has to do?

I worry about reports from his spokespeople that the recent truce broke down because, at the verge of a final agreement, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi intervened and withdrew his negotiators from the talks.

What is really going on here? Are we stuck in the middle of a power struggle that could have been avoided? What is Allawi up to if this is really what happened? And given the non-specific excuses given by Allawi's people regarding the breakdown of talks I tend to believe it is true.

This smells of the kind of deep-seated divisiveness that seems to permeate this region. And frankly, sitting way over here and being dependent on second hand reports to make my judgments, all I can do is hold my breath and hope that this, too, shall pass. And perhaps by the time this column goes to print it already will have passed.

As a side note, I'm concerned again about the Iraqi government's decision to ban all journalists from the area except those who are "embedded" with the U.S. military and thus easily controlled. What an obvious move to clear the way for something bad to happen.

Well, we shall see.

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at ebrock@news-daily.com .