Big Trouble in Iraq
Today's events in Iraq should cause concern for anyone interested in keeping that country from teetering into civil war. Insurgents bombed one of the holiest Shia mosques in the world, putting a giant crack in its roof. This is the latest in a wave of attacks on Shia targets. Juan Cole explains its importance:
The shrine, sacred to Shiiites, honors 3 Imams or holy descendants of the Prophet. They are Ali al-Hadi, Hasan al-Askari, and his disappeared son Muhammad al-Mahdi. Thousands of Shiiites demonnstrated in Samarra and in East Baghdad, against this desecration.
The Twelfh Imam or Mahdi is believed by Shiites to have disappeared into a supernatural realm (just as Christians believe in the ascension of Christ) from which he will someday return.
Some Shiites think his second coming is imminent. Muqtada all-Sadr and his followers are among them. They are livid about this attack on the shrine of the Mahdi's father.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also a firm believer in the imminent coming of the Mahdi. I worry that Iranian anger will boil over as a result of this bombing of a Shiite millenarian symbol.
Both Sunnis and Americans will be blamed. Very bad
This is after the US military built a wall of dirt around Samarra to protect it from attack. Maybe that's why some of them believe it ws an inside job.
The retaliation has been swift; reportedly more than 90 Sunni mosques have been attacked. History may look back at today as the beginning of this civil war. If we weren't in the middle of it already. This is a telling sign of that, from the "Great Communicator" of Iraq:
The country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sent instructions to his followers forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques, and called for seven days of mourning.
But he hinted, as did Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, that religious militias could be given a bigger security role if the government cannot protecting holy shrines - an ominous sign of the Shiite reaction ahead.
And if you think the US won't be swept up in this, read on:
Some Shiite political leaders already were angry with the United States because it has urged them to form a government in which nonsectarian figures control the army and police. (US Ambassador Zalmay) Khalilzad warned this week - in a statement clearly aimed at Shiite hard-liners - that America would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias.
One top Shiite political leader accused Khalilzad of sharing blame for the attack on the shrine in Samarra.
"These statements ... gave green lights to terrorist groups. And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility," said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the former commander of its militia.
Very bad news indeed.