Sunni extremists, almost certainly Wahabis and probably not Iraqis, have attacked and heavily damaged one of Shia Islams most holy sites, the al-Askari shrine at Samarra. This is obviously a deliberate attempt to inflame the already tense sectarian divisions between Shia and Sunni Iraqis. Sadly, it is already succeeding.
Tens of thousands of Shiites have taken to the street to protest and dozens of Sunni mosques have been targetted in revenge attacks. Iraqi leaders, including influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have called for calm but tensions are running at unprecedented levels.
Shi'ite gunmen took over several [Sunni] mosques in the capital, burning down two, and at others hanging out black Shi'ite flags.Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militias appear to have been involved in some of the violent confrontations with Sunnis. An al-Sadr spokesman said "If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so."
There was some suggestion that al-Sadr might have been able too provide the impetus needed to bridge the gap between Sunni and Shia Islamist groups in Iraq. His faction, unlike most of the rest of the UIA, has expressed a willingness to work with Sunni Islamist groups in the new government. The unifying factor, he seems to believe, is their opposition to the occupation (and their related shared emnity towards Allawi's secular group). It would, if it ever happened, be a coalition based on the principle that my enemy's enemy is my friend.
The conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims are based on historic splits and run very deep. The most remarkable aspect of the US "war" on terror may yet be that the traditional animosities between Shia and Sunni are put aside as they unite against the common enemy. If that were to happen, those who mistakenly claim that Islamic extremism is a single cohesive movement would, no doubt, loudly proclaim that they were right all along. These people wouldn't recognise a self-fullfilling prophesy if it bit them in the face. Today's events, however, are likely to put a significant dampener on al-Sadr's willingness to cooperate with Sunni groups.
Some Sunni groups, significantly the Iraqi Islamic Party, have condemned the attack on the al-Askari shrine. After their offices in Baghdad and Basra were attacked by Shi'ites, however, a spokesman said "We will pursue anyone who attacks Sunnis."
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, of interior ministry infamy, have also reacted to today's attack.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the powerful SCIRI Shi'ite Islamist party, accused U.S. ambassador Khalilzad of encouraging Sunni insurgents with comments on Monday insisting that the new cabinet must include Sunnis and others.After today, Khalilzad's efforts to remove SCIRI and their Badr militia from the interior ministry are even less likely to succeed than had previously been the case.
Reports are also emerging of revenge killings in retaliation for the attack on the shrine. The possibility of all out civil war is closer now than at any time since the invasion.
There are those who argue that the media concentrates on the bad news and ignores the good news from Iraq. I find this argument to be unconvincing propaganda, as regular readers will know. And what has happened today is very bad news indeed, however you try to spin it.
For anyone who disagrees, I once again recommend taking a nice relaxing holiday in the peaceful new Iraq. That would be just the thing to shut up pessimistic fools like me. Of course the Foreign Office says anyone who tries that will be putting themselves in extreme danger. Don''t take any notice of that though; the FO is clearly staffed exclusively by traitorous, leftie, Saddam loving stoppers like myself. Don't forget to send me a postcard.
Tags: News, Politics, Iraq