‘Holy’ Cities

London Daily Telegraph — Iran Warns US As Forces Pound Holy Sites In Iraq

Iran issued a “formal warning” to the Bush administration yesterday as American military forces launched a major attack on the Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Kufa.

The attack was an apparent attempt to crush the Shia rebellion in the south of Iraq led by the militant cleric Moqtadr al-Sadr.

Aircraft bombed Najaf, site of the Imam Ali shrine, one of the holiest in Shia Islam, killing several civilians. Tanks and armoured cars raided an important mosque in nearby Kufa, killing around 20 militants.

The attack appears to be a last-ditch attempt by the Americans to gain the initiative in the Shia belt about 100 miles south of the capital, Baghdad, even as control is slipping from their grasp.

In recent weeks their troops have barely been able to move out of their heavily fortified bases without coming under attack from militants loyal to Sadr.

The outcome of the campaign to regain control of Najaf, Kufa and Karbala, slightly to the north, may well prove pivotal for US attempts to pacify Iraq and conduct an organised withdrawal.

One of the things that has annoyed me about recent press coverage in Iraq is the constant use of the term “holy site” and “holy city” without scare quotes, as if these places were in fact endowed with some supernatural quality rather than simply being the object of superstitious fascination by adherents to a particular religious sect. I can’t, off the top of my head, recall such treatment being given to things held sacred by, say, Christian denominations.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mark says:

    I just wish they would explain why these places are, in fact, “holy.” The potential for holiness can get out of control, quickly. When will we get the stories about Israel occupying the holy area of the West Bank? Will the United States need to invade the holy country of Syria?

    Holy crap!

  2. Kate says:

    I liked the “last ditch” part.

  3. Brian J. says:

    How close are they to nuclear weapons that they feel comfortable issuing warnings?

  4. cj says:

    Or, Why is it ok for these people to use “holy” sites to launch political demonstrations — or worse (i.e., “insurgent” attacks)?

    When does *Holy* become craven? (And, yes, the same applies to the Catholic church.)

    “You shoot from there, we shoot back.” THAT is a policy I can support.