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February 23, 2006
The War Of The Golden Mosque

Insurgents blew up the golden dome of the Askariya mosque, destroying one of the holiest shrines in the Shi'a sect and potentially winning a long-running battle to pull Iraq into a sectarian civil war. In the aftermath of the bombing, carried out by terrorist commandos, Shi'ite militias killed at least 19 people as they attacked dozens of Sunni mosques in retaliation:

THE revenge attacks started within minutes of the devastating dawn blast that wrecked the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shia shrines in Iraq.

By the end of the day, as thousands of Iraqis spilt out on to the streets in protest and more than 90 mosques lay damaged or destroyed, Iraq’s political and religious leadership was struggling to avert a full-blown civil war. At least eighteen Sunnis, including three clerics, were reported murdered.

The reprisal attack on al-Quds Sunni mosque in western Baghdad was typical. Residents ran for cover as more than a dozen masked Shia gunmen raked the building with bullets. The firing halted as suddenly as it had begun. The men stepped back into their six saloons and pulled away slowly, singing and waving jubilant V-signs from the windows. They were ushered from the scene by soldiers from an Iraqi National Guard checkpoint , who cheered and waved.

Such scenes were repeated across the country as thousands of people, many calling for revenge, massed in cities throughout the south of Iraq demonstrating against the desecration of the Golden Mosque.

As a result of the bombing and the misguided vigilantism that ensued, the political process in Iraq momentarily ground to a halt. The largest Sunni faction in the National Assembly withdrew from all negotiations and demanded thatl the government issue an apology for the attacks on their mosques. The Shi'ites insist for the moment on maintaining their militias to protect their shrines. Shi'ite gunmen broke into schools and cajoed students into taking up armed insurrection.

Some voices of reason could still be heard in the cacophony of hatred. Grand Ayatollah Ali- al-Sistani issued demands for peaceful protests and forbade his followers from attacking Sunni mosques. President Talabani urged restraint for all Iraqis and told the nation that insurgents exploited their fears in an attempt to create disunity between Iraqis. The national security chief pointed the finger at foreign insurgents and declared it an attempt to create a civil war. How many Iraqis listened to these moderating words? It appears that Sistani's edicts may have had the most effect, clearing the streets of Baghdad and leaving an unsettling tension boiing out of sight.

Unsurprisingly, Iran found a way to exploit the attacks, and again to no one's great shock, he blamed "Zionists and occupiers" for the attack:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the United States and Israel on Thursday for the destruction of a Shiite shrine's golden dome in Iraq, saying it was the work of "defeated Zionists and occupiers." ...

"They invade the shrine and bomb there because they oppose God and justice," Ahmadinejad said, alluding to the U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq.

"These passive activities are the acts of a group of defeated Zionists and occupiers who intended to hit our emotions," he said in a speech that was broadcast on state television. Addressing the United States, he added: "You have to know that such an act will not save you from the anger of Muslim nations."

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iranian mullahcracy's puppet in Baghdad, echoed Ahmadinejad and called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops. The radical Shi'ite groups will try to make hay of this attack on Askariya by blaming the wrong foreigners without a doubt, but it will probably not gain much traction in Iraq. The majority of the Shi'ites already have deep suspicion about "Wahhabists", as they call the Zarqawi-led foreign provocateurs. Having a lunatic like Ahmadinejad spew his usual anti-Semitic paranoid fantasies will neither surprise nor influence many.

The greater issue is maintaining the political processes in Iraq and pushing the national security forces into position to ensure that the government has the monopoly on domestic force. The Shi'ite militias remain a direct challenge to the authority of the new Iraqi government and have to eventually disband or get absorbed into the command structure of the Iraqi security corps. As the terrorists intended, this bombing sets that effort back tremendously and makes the job of stabilzing Iraq that much more difficult. After the chaotic emotions quiet down, one hopes that the Iraqis themselves recognize that fact -- because if they do, all sides will focus on the Zarqawi nutcases with a literal vengeance for exploiting and using them in such a brutal and cold-hearted manner.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 23, 2006 5:51 AM

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