As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

It's concerning enough that the Pakistani Taliban has responded to the offensive against them in the Swat Valley with bombings in Lahore and Peshawar. Clearly they are embedded enough in local populations to carry out attacks without a base of operations in Swat, even in cities like Peshawar which are not Taliban strongholds. Juan Cole makes the argument that this could all turn public opinion against the Taliban, which is possible.

While is is possible that the public will blame the government for stirring up so much trouble with the Swat campaign, it is also possible that the public will turn decisively on the Taliban. There are precedents for such loss of popularity. After the 1997 attack on innocent tourists in Luxor, Egypt, the Egyptian public turned against the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Grouping (al-Gama'a al-Islamiya), the two small terrorist groups that had committed many acts of violence in the 1970s and 1980s and had assassinated President Anwar el Sadat in 1981. EIJ declined into irrelevance in Egypt, and al-Gama'a al-Islamiya's leadership has renounced violence.

But what REALLY bothers me is the series of attacks over the border, in Iran. A Shiite mosque in Zahedan was struck earlier in the week, and yesterday, gunmen fired on a campaign office for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Preelection tensions rose Friday in Iran's religiously and ethnically mixed southeast after gunmen opened fire on the president's campaign office and a radical group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a mosque the day before that killed up to 23 people and injured scores.

Iranian authorities blamed the United States for the violence in Zahedan, on the border with Pakistan.

"The hands of America and Israel were undoubtedly involved in this incident," prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told supporters in Tehran, referring to Thursday's bombing of a Shiite mosque. "Although Wahhabis and the infidel and evil Salafis were an accomplice to the crime, they were being led from somewhere else."

Wahhabi and Salafi are puritanical schools of Sunni Islam rooted in Saudi Arabia. They have inspired Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network, as well as the Taliban and other groups that denounce Shiite Islam, the majority sect in Iran [...]

Hours earlier, the Sunni militant group Jundallah, which is linked to Al Qaeda and draws support from Iran's ethnic Baluch minority, claimed responsibility for the mosque bombing on a Shiite holiday. It made the claim in a phone call to the United Arab Emirates-based Al Arabiya satellite news channel.

The caller claimed that the victims were hard-line pro-government militiamen discussing the June 12 election.

Now, this province is basically lawless anyway, so I don't want to make too much of it. But I fear that this widens the larger Shiite-Sunni struggle inside Islam, but that hardliner cleric trying to push blame onto the Americans is a ploy to increase tensions and move away from any reconciliation and negotiation. You can clearly see the tensions between Shiite Iran and their Sunni competitors here. You can also see it in Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki throwing up his hands at any further gestures to the Saudis, accusing them of allowing Sunni insurgents to flow through their borders. This is something that many of us worried about at the start of the Iraq conflict, the spread of sectarian violence throughout the region. I really hope this is not the beginning.

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