Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ratcheting up the violence...and raising the stakes

The al-Askiri Shrine in Samarra, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam has been devastated by bomb blasts that brought down the minarets of the mosque. The BBC reports that the blasts took place about 0900 Baghdad time, or 0100 on the east coast. The Shrine at Samarra holds the tombs of two deeply revered Shia Imams, and pilgrims from around the world come to Samarra to pay homage to Imam Ali al-Hadi, who died in 868, and his son, Hassan al-Askari, who died in 874. They are believed by Shia Muslims to be the last descendants of Mohammed.

The sectarian violence that has wracked the country for the last year can be traced directly to the bombing of the dome at the al Askiri shrine in February 2006.

"It is a terrorist attack aimed at sparking sectarian violence," Sheikh Saleh al-Haidari told the AFP news agency – indeed, it is obvious to even casual observers of the situation in Iraq (if any such creature exists) that this was a calculated attack, perpetrated with the intent of escalating the sectarian violence in Iraq.

Samara is mainly a Sunni stronghold, and has been a flashpoint of the insurgency against both US forces and the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.

Make no mistake, this attack was calculated and deliberate and the next 48 hours will be crucial. But if I were to venture a guess tonight, I would say the summer just got a lot more violent and a lot more treacherous for American troops.

Consider this - it has been made public recently that American forces are arming Sunni militias, and now one of Shia Islam's most holy shrines has been attacked - I am betting that the Shia militias step up their activity in coming days, includign against Americans. The next 48 hours are going to be crucial.

May cooler heads prevail...

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