A fierce struggle between allied forces and Moslem militants which flared last month over a misunderstanding involving U.S. men's toiletries is becoming focussed on a municipal toilet facility in Najaf.
Amid renewed conflict between American and British forces and Shiite Islamic insurgents, a disruption to sewage facilities has led to fierce fighting over thus far unaffected public facilities. Due to severe damage to the sewage system resulting from American artillery bombardment earlier in the week, a row of chemical toilets in the conflict zone in the holy city of Najaf has become a heavily disputed military strategic goal of both sides in the three-week long conflict.
The row of seven chemical toilets was left for the benefit of the local people by a departing Dutch sub-contractor firm on an American reconstruction project. Since then the toilets have been maintained for public use by the local municipal authorities.
But the unforeseen effects of heavy bombardment on Monday through Wednesday resulted in the facilities becoming a prime strategic goal for both sides, who both regard the capture of the seven stainless-steel cubicles as absolutely essential.
"The Shiites are dug in and it's clear they are throwing everything into this battle", said Major Chuck J. Dangers, a spokesperson for the U.S. military. "We have to be careful not to hit the facilities. The insurgents have partial control, but we have managed to infiltrate the cubicles over one hundred and seventy times in the past hour while maintaining covering fire. Our people are highly motivated."
When questioned about the likelihood of an allied victory Major Dangers appeared pensive: "Due to the need to preserve the integrity of the assets we have had to rule out British air strikes against the installation. Dammit, it is frustrating! The situation is clear, we need those cubicles and the enemy knows it. So far we have denied the enemy access 90% of the time and we figure they can't hold out forever, but this could make them all the more desperate, and combined with fundamentalist fanaticism we could be looking at a long wait ... some of their soldiers haven't been relieved for a long time - they may just give up, or they may make a run for it. If they do, we'll be facing a full-scale enemy assault. It will be absolute chaos!"
The American ground forces are attempting to dislodge well-armed insurgents from an obscure Shiite sect called "The Beaters of the Bushes" who have sworn to do everything possible to sabotage what they claim are U.S. attempts to convert Moslems into U.S. cable television subscribers whereupon they would "become willing puppets of U.S. consumerist ideologies".
Last month the American military offended the sect by attempting to win the hearts and minds of "The Beaters of the Bushes" with a series of special offers. In return for allowing an American cable-TV company to install cable television to their homes and to local Mosques, each of the sect's members was to receive a year's supply of men's toiletries, including shaving cream, after-shave lotion and a large shaving brush. A misunderstanding arose over the brand name on the shaving brush - "George Washington Brush Company" - when the sect's leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Mustafa, based upon a mis-reading of "George Washington Brush", interpreted the toiletries as being a personal and religious insult from the President of the United States of America himself, the sworn enemy of the sect.
Meanwhile, a local Imam, Mohammed Abdul Ali al-Kaled, was working behind the scenes on both sides to try to broker a deal that would allow both sides to use the toilet facilities while permitting municipal authorities to access the site to carry out necessary maintenance.
He said he was asking both sides to observe the Holy festival of Ashoura by cooperating in a spirit of bipartisanship and goodwill: "Both the Faithful and the Infidels should cooperate to ensure that religious services and municipal services work harmoniously together to serve the public good, God willing. These facilities should not be occupied by the American invaders of our Islamic Republic after the manner in which they have unlawfully occupied the lands of the Faithful, but nor should any Moslem deny any man access to the path of contemplation on the nature of God, for it is written in Holy Qoran that he must put on his right shoe first in the morning, and he should heed the words of the prophet, for that is the first step on a man's journey towards contemplation of the infinite."
When asked whether this injunction also applied to women, the Imam replied: "Six of these toilets have been set aside as men's toilets by a Holy Fatwa, but if it is absolutely necessary then in the interests of public decency and religious morality, and to give leniency towards the woman, the woman may use the facility if she is accompanied by her brother or uncle or father or stepfather."
Meanwhile, when questioned over whether an apology for the injurious actions taken by the U.S. owned TV cable company, which has so far resulted in the deaths of 22 U.S. servicemen and an estimated 265 militants, would be forthcoming from the White House, a White House spokesperson gave a brief statement.
Reading from a statement by an unnamed senior White House official the spokesperson said:
"Someone from that company decided to fly a particular kite and it failed to make it off the ground and there will certainly now be an investigation by the White House into who it was that had the idea to try to fly that particular kite, and you can be assured that when that Mr or Mrs someone is found they will no longer be in a position to fly any similar such kites again in the near or distant future, and if I have my way they won't be flying any kites of any description that anyone will ever get to hear of ever again!"
Elizabeth Jane is a correspondent who is visiting the Iraq War from Adelaide in South Australia.