Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Retribution is Underway

In the hours since the bombing of the al-Askiri mosque in Samarra, four Sunni mosques have been attacked – three have been bombed -- the Grand Mosque, the Abdullah Jubburi mosque and the Hatteen mosque -- a fourth, the Rhe Sunni mosque of Khudair al-Janabi in Baghdad's Bayaa neighborhood was set ablaze.

In the wake of the bombing of the Golden Mosque on 22 February 2006, Shi’ite death squads killed with seeming insatiability. It was the defining moment that made civil war no longer deniable.

Immediately after the 2006 attack, Shiite death squads accelerated their killings, dumping thousands of mutilated bodies -- most of them Sunni Arabs -- around the capital. More than 100 Sunni mosques were damaged in counter strikes. Tens of thousands of Sunnis and Shiites were driven from their homes in bouts of ethnic cleansing, including in Samarra, which was always predominantly Sunni, but now almost exclusively so.

Fearing a backlash from the latest attack, the Iraqi government imposed an indefinite curfew across Baghdad starting 3 p.m. Wednesday. U.S. military officials said Samarra remained quiet in the hours after the attack.

In response to the attack on the shrine today, the entire Iraqi security force responsible for the security of the mosque was detained for investigation, according to a high-ranking Iraqi law enforcement official. The minarets were apparently brought down by explosive charges set at their bases. It is suspected that some of the guards assigned protective duties were complicit.

"We heard the first explosion, and when we turned around to see what happened, another explosion took place in the second minaret," a man who gave hs name as Abu Abdullah said in a telephone interview. “The Askariya shrine means a lot to us, the people of Samarra. To lose the shrine hurt us a lot, and made us afraid about what will happen next. Someone wants to create sectarian strife by doing this act." ," Abu Abdullah, who lives next to the shrine and added that even though it was a Shiite shrine, Sunnis had always respected it.

Iraqi security forces patrolled the city, throughout the day, discharging their weapons into the air and announcing a curfew from loudspeakers mounted on jeeps.

Throughout Baghdad and elsewhere, Shiite mosques broadcast calls for demonstrations.

Security forces personnel, who are predominantly Shi’ite, yelled threats at the residents of Samarra, blaming them for the destruction and threatening revenge. Residents retaliated, shouting back that they did not see how the bombings could have occurred, with the shrine so heavily guarded by the security forces.

In the political fallout arena, you have Muqtada al-Sadr stating that his parliamentary block will boycott parliament until the Iraqi government undertakes repairs on all mosques, Sunni and Shia alike, that have been damaged by years of warfare.

The political party affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said its 30 legislators will boycott parliament until the Iraqi government begins to repair the shattered shrine and other mosques -- both Sunni and Shiite -- devastated by years of fighting. This boycott by the Sadr block further weakens the shaky government of Nouri al-Maliki, and threatens to slow further the realization of benchmarks set for the government by the United States. (Still no oil sharing law! Exxon grows impatient!)

Sadr's political bloc has launched similar boycotts in the past to protest other issues. The suspension appeared likely to weaken the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and could delay the adoption of laws intended to build national reconciliation and reduce violence.

"We declare a three-day mourning period . . . and shout Allahu Akbar from Sunni and Shiite mosques," Sadr said in a written statement, in which he called for peaceful demonstrations and reconciliation between the sects. In his statement, he averred that no Sunni Arab could have been responsible for the attack on the Shiite shrine. Instead, he faulted the Iraqi government for failing to protect the landmark, and blamed the relentless violence in Iraq on the ongoing U.S. military presence.

For their part, both Iraqi and U.S. officials said they suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq of orchestrating the blasts. (Who else? Aren’t all attacks staged by al Qa’eda now? I am starting to think that any Sunni we aren’t in bed with is considered al Qae’da these days.)

"This brutal action on one of Iraq's holiest shrines is a deliberate attempt by al-Qa’eda to sow dissent and inflame sectarian strife," U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen.David H. Petraeus said in a joint statement. "It is an act of desperation by an increasingly beleaguered enemy seeking to obstruct the peaceful political and economic development of a democratic Iraq.

"We share in the outrage of the Iraqi people against this crime, and we call on all Iraqis to reject this call to violence," they said.

If only platitudes could get us out of this mess in Mesopotamia.

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