Day By Day

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Crunch Time in Iraq Again

The new Iraqi nation is now facing its fourth great test on the road to a prosperous, functioning democracy. The first was the elections to choose an interim government. The people of Iraq turned out by the millions and in doing so validated the principle of democracy. Then came the second test, this time of the American people. Would they stay the course? They passed with flying colors, re-electing President Bush. The third test was the constitutional process which was designed to reintegrate the disaffected Sunni minority back into the emerging nation. The elections accepting the constitution were a success, with major Sunni participation, and the ongoing talks to form a government under that constitution are a welcome relief from the open insurgency that they replaced. Now the problem is that of Islamist radicals who, in conjunction with Iranian provocateurs, are determined to disrupt the nation-building process by precipitating civil war among Iraq's varied clans and nationalities.

This came to a head with the bombing Wednesday of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a holy shrine to Shiites. This has set off a series of reprisals that threatens to blossom into the civil war the radicals have been hoping for. Der Spiegel has a useful roundup here. Here's the hey graf:
On Wednesday evening, 20 armed men wearing police uniforms stormed a jail in the southern city of Basra, stripped the guards of their weapons and took a number of Sunni prisoners hostage. Authorities later found the bodies of 10 men in different parts of the city, along with an 11th seriously injured prisoner who survived the ordeal. Most of the dead were identified as Iraqi, but two were Egyptian, police said.

Mosques were likewise targeted across Iraq on Wednesday with dozens of Sunni sites attacked and set on fire. In the attacks, at least eight Sunnis were killed, including three clerics.
Iraqi Sunnis say they will boycott a crisis meeting called by President Talabani following the escalation of retaliatory violence....

Ayatollah Sistani, the leader of Iraq's Shiites, has endorsed public protests, but has condemned retaliatory violence.

Omar at Iraq the Model summed up the mood like this:
Things look scary here in Baghdad and I hope there won't be more updates to report as I can't see a positive thing coming out of this.
Zeyad at Healing Iraq agreed:
The situation in Baghdad is bad, bad, bad. I had to flee work early and return home after news of large protests in Shi'ite districts, and several attacks against Sunni mosques in the Baladiyat, Sha'ab and Dora districts by angry rioters. Sunnis are being blamed for the attack against a Shia holy shrine in Samarra, a largely Sunni town. The streets look empty now, and all stores seem to be closed. I can hear gunfire and American helicopters and jets circling the skies.

There were updates through the night from the Iraqi local media. Omar reports:
-President Talabani promises to make rebuilding the shrine his personal responsibility and to donate the required money from his own.

-Head of the Sunni endowment sheikh Ahmed al-Samarra'I announces that he will allocate 2 billion dinars (~1.4 million $) for the rebuilding of the shrine from the treasury of the Sunni endowment.

-Huge demonstrations in many of Iraq's provinces including Samarra and Mosul where thousands of people condemned the attack.

-The top 4 Shia Ayatollahs hold a meeting at Sistani's home to discuss the situation.

-The Association of Muslim scholars and the Islamic Party condemn the "criminal act".

-Retaliatory attacks on reportedly 29 Sunni mosques and the Accord Front warns from the consequences of such violent reactions.

-Jafari in a press conference calls for national unity and the leaders of the UIA hold a meeting. A press release is expected to come soon.

-The Iraqi TV opened the phone lines to receive the reactions of the audience to the attack and hosts Sunni clerics and politicians in an attempt to relieve the tension.

-Baghdad is in undeclared emergency situation, shops closed and streets nearly empty.

-Tight security around the shrine of Abu Haneefa in Aazamiya district of Baghdad, this is considered the top shrine/mosque for Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

-Masked gunmen attack Shia protestors in at least one neighborhood in western Baghdad and armed clashes in Ghazaliya and Hay al-A'amil.

-People exchange phones calls with their relatives and friends to check on them and discourage them from leaving their homes.
Zeyad reported for some time as news of mosque after mosque being attacked came in. Then this:
And right now, they sound like they are near my doorstep. The Interior ministry forces and Mahdi militiamen are having a field day. Relatives from Palestine street and Baghdad Al-Jedida have called to report raid campaigns against Sunni neighbourhoods. Is this the final straw? Or will it pass after a random spree of violence? No one can really tell at the moment.
That, of course, is the question that everyone is asking.

Here's the BBC overview:
More than 100 people have been killed in Iraq in apparent revenge attacks after the bombing of a key Shia shrine.

Scores of bullet-riddled bodies have been found in Baghdad, while in the bloodiest attack 47 factory workers were killed near the capital.

President Jalal Talabani called an emergency summit of Iraq's political leaders to discuss the violence.

Sunni Arab politicians boycotted the meeting and pulled out of coalition talks in protest at reprisal attacks.

The situation is beginning to clear. According to Omar, who is monitoring local media in Baghdad the key to the violence is the Iran-backed Sadrist Mehdi militia, led by Moqtada al Sadr who has pledged to protect all Shiite sites. [see the report in the Kaleej Times, here].

Omar reports:
Looking at the geographic distribution of the attacked mosques, I found they were mostly in areas adjacent to Sadr city forming a line that extends from the New Baghdad district in the southeast to al-Hussayniya in the northeast.

The Association of Muslim Scholars is accusing the Sadrists in particular, actually it's not only the Association that accuses the Sadrists, most people here in Baghdad point out the role of Mehdi army of Sadr in carrying out most of the attacks.
The Association is trying to remind Sadr of the their times of solidarity during the battles in Najaf and Fallujah yet they are condemning his message to his followers in which he called for keeping up and escalating the "protests".
Read it here.

The above map, excerpted from Zeyad's blog, confirms Omar's observation that nearly all the attacks on Sunni mosques are taking place in the areas immediately adjacent to Sadr City.

Interesting, none of the Western MSM is commenting on Sadr's role, but it is important. He's all over the Islamic media sources. Sadr is openly defying Sistani and challenging him for leadership of Iraq's Shiite faction. He used to be allied with the Sunni insurgents, but now he's taking his orders from Iran. He's the bad guy to watch.

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