And so, civil war it is

shiite rage.jpg

There’s no denying it: Iraq is on the cusp of civil war. It seems to have started already, and there’s probably no way to stop it. Even the most optimistic Iraqi bloggers concede the situation is desperate, thanks to the bombing of the golden-domed Shiite shrine.

The quality of the target and the timing of the attack were chosen in a way that can possibly bring very serious consequences over the country.

The situation in Baghdad is so tense now, it wasn’t like this in the early hours of the morning as it took a few hours for the news to spread but on my way back from clinic I saw pickup vehicles with loudspeakers roaming the streets calling on people to shut their stores in the name of the Hawza and join the protests after the noon prayer to condemn the attack on the holy shrine.

Remember all the promises of beacons of democracy, of peace and liberty? Remember the jubilation over the purple fingered voters? The assurances that the insurgency was “in its last throes”? Well, say goodbye to all that.

“This is as 9/11 in the United States,” said Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite and one of Iraq’s two vice presidents.

In Baghdad, Shiite boys and men abruptly abandoned classrooms, homes and jobs to muster outside the headquarters of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the heart of Sadr City, the slum named for the cleric’s father.

“This is a day we will never forget,” said Naseer Sabah, 24, who had left his job at a pastry factory without changing clothes to join the black-clad Shiite militia fighters clutching pistols, Kalashnikov assault rifles and grenade launchers outside Sadr’s headquarters. Thousands converged on the Sadr offices, on foot or in buses and pickup trucks packed with armed men hanging out the windows.

“We await the orders of our preachers,” teenagers around Sabah cried.

“We are the soldiers of the clerics,” Shiite protesters chanted in Karrada, another of Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhoods. Demonstrators there shouted a warning to their enemies: “If they are up to it, let them face us.”

Other protests were reported in the predominantly Shiite cities of Najaf, Karbala, Basra and elsewhere.

Sunni political leaders said retaliatory attacks hit more than 20 Sunni mosques across Iraq with bombs, gunfire or arson. Authorities reported at least 18 people killed in the aftermath, including two Sunni clerics. In one incident, in Basra in southern Iraq, police said gunmen in police uniforms broke into a jail, seized 12 Sunni men and later killed them, according to the Reuters news agency.

Many of Baghdad’s millions shuttered shops and left work early, rushing home to tense neighborhoods where gunfire rang out overnight. In one neighborhood, families lay on the floors of their houses to evade bullets as militiamen loyal to Sadr confronted Iraqi troops backed by U.S. military helicopters outside a Sunni site.

Wednesday’s attack hit Samarra’s Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque. The mosque holds the tombs of two revered 9th-century imams of the Shiite branch of Islam, including Hassan al-Askari, father of the “hidden imam,” al-Mahdi. Many Shiites believe that Mahdi is still alive and that his reemergence one day will signal the beginning of the end of the world.

The Sunni insurgents’ determined efforts to push the Shiites into an all-out civil war appear to have been sucessful. And the Shiites place equal blame for the attack on the Americans. Al Sadr’s militias are mobilized, and we are the enemy, too. Sorry to sound apocalyptic, but there is nothing happy to report at the moment. The momentum has begun, it can’t be turned the other way. Imagine, after 911, trying to placate Americans with words alone. This is Iraq’s 911, and just as we had to invade Afghanistan, so too must the Shiites now go to war against the Sunnis. And anyone who stands in their way. Like Americans seeking to keep the peace.

Is anyone still thinking we achieved any sort of victory in Iraq? If so, what would defeat in Iraq look like? One by one, every worst-case scenario has materialized. Mission Accomplished, indeed.

The Discussion: 16 Comments

Jumping the gun a bit, aren’t you?

…or so let’s hope so..

February 22, 2006 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

I don’t think so. I’ve always been right about Iraq ever since I figured out we’d been sold a bill of goods, and I’m right this time, too. Did you check the links? What conclusion would you come to?

From the last link:

Shiite militia members flooded the streets of Baghdad, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at Sunni mosques while Iraqi Army soldiers who had been called out to stop the violence stood helpless nearby. By the day’s end, mobs had struck or destroyed 27 Sunni mosques in the capital, killing three imams and kidnapping a fourth, Interior Ministry officials said. In all, at least 15 people were killed in related violence across the country.

Thousands of grief-stricken people in Samarra crowded into the shrine’s courtyard after the bombing, some weeping and kissing the fallen stones, others angrily chanting, “Our blood and souls we sacrifice for you, imams!”

And from the first link:

Angry crowds thronged the streets, militiamen attacked Sunni mosques, and at least 19 people were killed. With the gleaming dome of the 1,200-year-old Askariya shrine reduced to rubble, some Shiites lashed out at the United States as partly to blame. The violence many of the 90 attacks on Sunni mosques were carried out by Shiite militias seemed to push Iraq closer to all-out civil war than at any point in the three years since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Let’s call a spade a spade for once. This is civil war we are seeing. Al Sadr’s now running the show, and all we can do is watch from the sidelines as our dreams of liberation and peace continnue to crack and crumble.

February 22, 2006 @ 10:10 pm | Comment

It’s looking very likely. (Though of course, the question is: precisely how bad does it have to get before a civil war is declared? Surely in any other world country the situation for the past few years would have already been classified as a civil war.)

Over on the guardian newsblog the conspiracy theories are flying around. Who would benefit most from a civil war: Israel (sic), the US (exit strategy?), Al Qaeda, the Iranians?, L. Ron Hubbard? (Ok, I think the last one was a joke.)

Hmm, many people always felt that a civil war was inevitable. This is pretty much the reason why senior Bush refused to invade in 1991.
Having said that, I get the impression that most Iraqis were grateful for the removal of Saddam. But does that justify the deaths of so many who would otherwise have lived under him?

Anyway, I don’t think you can completely blame Bush for this situation. Whether Saddam was removed by invasion, or whether we waited until he died / was assasinated, the power vaccum at the top and the tense regional and ethnic relations were always going to lead to a dangerous sitation (as with the Balkans). What happens next is really up to the Iraqi people, and their religious leaders – many of whom do seem to be trying to call for peace and calm.

February 22, 2006 @ 10:12 pm | Comment

I haven’t had a chance to read all the way through yet, but I will tomorrow.

I’m sure you’re probably right, I just hope it doesn’t go that way…

February 22, 2006 @ 10:27 pm | Comment

Well, yeah, Dish, exactly. The point being that we should have left it to the Iraqi people to decide.

And if Iraq had fallen into this kind of chaos as a result of Saddam’s passing, then I do believe some sort of international intervention might have been warranted, as in the Balkans. I forget the name of the woman who wrote that book about modern genocides, “A Problem from Hell.” But one of the points she made was, there are a lot of complexities about intervening in another nation’s internal affairs. The line where it seems to make sense to intervene is when a state fails. Failed states – like Afghanistan, for example – are a danger to their own populations and to countries around them. They create the kind of environment that incubates extremists and terrorists.

Who knows what would have happened in Iraq if we hadn’t invaded? But at the very least, this dreadful chaos and bloodshed would not be on our heads.

February 23, 2006 @ 1:07 am | Comment

I don’t think I was very coherent in my previous post. This is such a difficult issue…I’ll try again:
I completely understand your point Other Lisa. I’ve always disagreed with this invasion and occupation because…well, a) ideologically I’m a pacifist, but this is the real world so b) senior Bush was ideally placed to do it in 1991, but he listened to sensible advisors who told him that an occupation would be too costly and too dangerous a situation to handle.
I think we can blame GWB that the bloodshed is happen now, rather than at any other time, and we can blame him that the US and UK soldiers are right there in the firing line, and we can blame him for the deaths of the Iraqi civilians killed during the invasion. However, we cannot blame him for the fact that the Sunnis hate the Shias, the Shias hate the Sunnis and the Kurds hate both of them. We can blame him for not realising this was going to happen, but we can’t blame him that it’s happening. And we can’t realistically expect him to stop it. Actually, he has succeded in one thing: the Iraqi people now have democracy, and the first choice they’re going to make is whether or not to have a civil war. When you give people democracy, you have to allow them to take control of everything, even if you don’t like their choices.
(Hence, I don’t approve of Hamas and their policies at all, but I believe that the Palestinian people have every right to elect them.)

February 23, 2006 @ 1:37 am | Comment

Showed a film called “Hearts and Minds” made in’74. Point it made was how the Vietcong volunteered to dress in rags and live in tunnels when the Yanks had to bribe the few South Vietnamese they could. That’s not a civil war.
Great line from it: “The US wasn’t on the wrong side. It was the wrong side.”

February 23, 2006 @ 1:42 am | Comment


What you said.

February 23, 2006 @ 2:05 am | Comment

All fair points. They got their democracy, all right, and as anyone who understood the region could have predicted, that meant a government based on Islam and run by Shiites. Like Tito and some other strongmen, Saddam succeeded in one thing, and that was holding Iraq together, an almost impossible task considering its ethnic breakdown. He did it through sheer terror, torture, murder and brutality. Maybe that’s the only way to make things work in a country that is contrived, built on artificial borders imposed by colonialists. No, I’m not saying I wish Saddam were in power. Just that by its nature, iraq can never be a unified country. There’s no factor unifying its people, divided into three distinct groups that hate one another. Yugoslavia, once Tito was gone, fell apart at the seams and ancient grudge between Serbs and Croations and Moslems re-emerged and led to genocide. As Dish says, this was in all likelihood an inevitability. The tragedy is that now it’s on America’s hands, making us look like idiots after all our grandiose promises of beacons of democracy and liberty for all. It reinforces the image of Americans as ignorant yokels who haven’t the faintest clue what’s going on in other countries. An image that is, sadly, well deserved.

February 23, 2006 @ 2:08 am | Comment

We’d all better brace ourselves. I have a hunch most Americans have no idea just how bad things in Iraq really are. This is scarier than all hell.

Iraq took a lethal step closer to disintegration and civil war yesterday after a devastating attack on one of the country’s holiest sites. The destruction of the golden-domed Shia shrine in Samarra sparked a round of bloody sectarian retaliation in which up to 60 Sunni mosques were attacked and scores of people were killed or injured.

The bomb attack has enraged the majority Shia population, who regard the shrine in the same way that Roman Catholics view St Peter’s in Rome.

In a number of respects civil war in Iraq has already begun. Many of the thousand bodies a month arriving in the morgues in Baghdad are of people killed for sectarian reasons. It is no longer safe for members of the three main communities ­ the Sunni and Shia Arabs and the Kurds ­ to visit each other’s parts of the country.

“Iraq is in a Weimar period like Germany in the 1920s which will either end with the country disintegrating or in an authoritarian government taking power,” said Ghassan Atiyyah, an Iraqi political commentator.

Purple fingers…shiny new schools…all those “let’s look at the bright side!” posts by Arthur Chrenkoff…Bush going on about a golden age for womens’ rights and representative government and our new ally….all these images, gone with the wind.

February 23, 2006 @ 2:38 am | Comment

I recall warning about this years ago.

Sigh, looks like I was right.

February 23, 2006 @ 5:07 am | Comment

Not wishing to denigrate you or anything, but George Bush Snr’s advisors had figured this one out back in 1990. As Richard said, anyone with historical knowledge of the region could tell that there was going to be trouble somewhere down the line.

February 23, 2006 @ 6:20 am | Comment

In response to the bombing of the al-Askariya shrine in Samarra, President Bush issued an eloquent statement:

I ask all Iraqis to exercise restraint in the wake of this tragedy and to pursue justice in accordance with the laws and constitution of Iraq. Violence will only contribute to what the terrorists sought to achieve by this act.

Is it inconceivable that while addressing his fellow Americans after September 11, 2001, Bush could have expressed a similar sentiment? (more…)

February 23, 2006 @ 6:55 am | Comment

it’s getting worse by the hour.

Just been reported that 47 factory workers have been dragged from a bus and murdered.

This is almost three years since Bush declared “major ground operations are over”.

Iraqis everywhere tonight are celebrating their liberation.

February 23, 2006 @ 8:22 am | Comment

Don’t forget Poland. 🙂

February 23, 2006 @ 4:35 pm | Comment

Yeah, the Balkans, there’s a real success story…

February 23, 2006 @ 8:54 pm | Comment

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