Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Spark of the Iraqi Civil War

I guess we're about to find out exactly how stable Iraq really is, becuase if this doesn't spark serious conflict, what could?

One of the most revered shrines in Shiite Islam was bombed early this morning north of Baghdad, causing the collapse of its dome, police and eyewitnesses said. There was no immediate estimate of casualties in the latest in a series of sectarian attacks in the country.

The attack on the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, in the city of Samarra sparked immediate and widespread protests among Shiites across Iraq and reports of reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques. The blast appeared designed to further inflame sectarian tension between Iraq's Shiite majority and the Sunni Arab population from whose ranks the bulk of the country's insurgency is drawn.

"The main aim of these terrorist groups is to drag Iraq into a civil war," said Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, in an interview on al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based Arabic news channel.Thousands of Shiite militia fighters -- many armed with pistols, automatic rifles and grenade launchers -- took to the streets of cities across Iraq after the bombing, even as Shiite political and religious leaders called for peaceful demonstrations and restraint.
It's good news that the Shiite leaders are calling for restraint; it also makes perfect sense, as they're quite aware where the power lies in Iraq. Unfortunately, so do those trying to start a war, and they know how to enrage the Shiites.

That said, it's unlikely that every, or even most, Shiites in Iraq will all of a sudden grab AK-47s and go fight. The bombers are counting on hotheads to ignore their leaders and execute a reprisal, preferably one that affects innocent Sunni and gives Sunni extremists the excuse they need for violence: one that doesn't directly involve them in the bombing.

That's why this isn't nearly as encouraging:

In Baghdad, news of the mosque bombing prompted thousands of Shiite men to abruptly leave their homes and jobs to report to offices of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. School boys, fighting-age men and graying elders marched on foot, or piled into buses and the back of pickup trucks, to report for action.

"We are waiting for orders from our clerics," men shouted outside the headquarters of Sadr, in Baghdad's Sadr City.

Over loudspeakers late in the day, a preacher at the Sadr headquarters blamed the bombing on Iraq's "occupiers," meaning Americans, and ordered that there be no retaliation against Sunnis.

If Sadr also avoids blaming this on the Sunni, that may help prevent civil war... but by foisting it on the Americans, things will become rougher for the U.S. in Iraq.

(Which is, of course, entirely in Sadr's interests.)

In any case, Iraq just became that much more dangerous.

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