Meanwhile, in the Civil War...
The fear that the al-Askariyah mosque bombing would be the Fort Sumter moment for Iraq appears to be coming true. Over 200 are dead in Baghdad alone from sectarian violence, and nearly 200 Sunni mosques have been damaged in retaliation for the bombing of the Shiite shrine. A curfew has been instituted to calm things down. The US Ambassador has admitted this is the brink of civil war. Worst, the leading Sunni parties have pulled out of talks for a national unity government.
And even the Ayatollah al-Sistani, the "George Washington" of Iraq, is openly calling for Shiite paramilitaries to protect their holy sites and their people. That's definitely the answer in Iraq, another paramilitary group. Oddly, Muqtada al-Sadr sounds like the Great Communicator in all this:
Muqtada al-Sadr had been in Lebanon. He cut short his trip and went overland to Iraq. He told the Syrian news agency that he condemns this "despicable crime" and called the Iraqi people to "unity and solidarity so as to deny any opportunity to those who wish to ignite public turmoil."
Of course, he rejected the Iraqi Constitution a few days ago, so who knows what to believe? And a day later, he seemed to back up Sistani's calls for militia to guard Shiite holy sites. You'll notice that the main figures whose voice has become prominent in Iraq nowadays are the clerics:
The sectarian crisis illustrates not only the power of the religious leadership but the weakness of mainstream political figures on whom the U.S. must rely if it is to begin pulling troops out of Iraq this year.
Clerical power is a political reality in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq - regardless of what the constitution has to say about religious freedom, women's rights and institutional democracy.
This is condition critical in Iraq.
P.S. Some great links to Iraqi bloggers and how they're seeing this unfold here.