Head in the Desert Sand

In which the State Department demonstrates its cluelessness.


In Washington, the State Department insisted that US policy in Iraq was succeeding and denied that political negotiations had collapsed, only that they had paused. “Come on, let’s not blow this out of proportion,” said spokesman Adam Ereli. He denied reports of widespread violence, speaking of “some incidents”.

Look, I’m really sorry reality is intruding on your little fantasy but a lot of people are probably going to die in the coming days and weeks because of the idea that if you just repeat something enough times, it will come true.
Enough already. Shut your mouths; you people in Washington have caused enough damage already.

Journalist’s Funeral Attacked

A funeral in western Baghdad is attack because of police cars and fear.

BAGHDAD — In an ominous sign reminiscent of the atrocities committed in the Balkan Wars, the funeral of “Atwar Bahjat, an al-Arabiya journalist killed Wednesday”:http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=1655859, is under attack right now in a western suburb of Baghdad.
As I watched the coverage this morning, a correspondent traveling with the funeral party called into al-Arabiya, saying the funeral procession was under attack by gunmen in the neighborhood of al-Haswah, a Sunni area. The sound of gunshots could clearly be heard around the correspondent and there was a note of panic in his voice. Four people have been injured and one killed, so far.
The funeral procession was a mixed Sunni and Shi’a affair, because Bahiat, a stylish 26-year-old female correspondent for al-Arabiya who was killed Wednesday in Samarra as she was covering the bombing there, came from a mixed family. The funeral procession had police cars on either end of it, and this may have caused the inhabitants of al-Haswah to believe the procession was led by Shi’as coming to attack them with government support.
Tensions here are so high that any no one should think of moving between neighborhoods, or within a mixed neighborhood. The Americans have been almost invisible, except for an air presence. Apaches and Blackhawks buzz the city, snarling by overhead as their pilots watch the city’s militants entrench themselves for a battle that, from the ground, seems inevitable.

Sunnis hitting back

The Sunnis have begun to fight back, I hear.

BAGHDAD — There are scattered reports that the Sunni gunmen and others have begun striking back against Shi’a neighborhoods and religious sites. We’re hearing that attacks on Shi’a positions are happening right now in Kadhimiya, Doura (a mixed neighborhood) and Adhimiya, a Sunni area, but with some Shi’as living there.

There is a report that in Shu’aybah in Basra, the tomb of “Anas ibn Malik”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anas_ibn_Malik, one of the Prophet’s Companions, has been blown up. I have no further details on this.

The curfew that locked down the center of the country today has been extended into tomorrow. No movement from 8 p.m. tonight, three hours ago, until 4 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.

At least 158 people have been killed in Baghdad in the last two days, according to police, Interior Ministry and Baghdad morgue sources. It is unknown how many have been killed around the country. The Muslim Clerics Association, a hardline Sunni organization, says that more than 168 of their mosques have been attacked around the country. While this number may be inflated, we have independent sources that say at least 100 have been attacked. So let’s put the numbers between those two … for the present.

The people who planted the explosives in the Askariya shrine in Samarra on Wednesday knew what they were doing. Not only in a technical, but also a political sense.

First, the technical side: The blasts seem to have been set by demolition experts who had plenty of time to set the charges. Now, maybe they got lucky, but I doubt it. I have a feeling that taking down the dome was the plan all along.

On the political front, if you wanted to dynamite any kind of nascent trust that was developing Sunni and Shi’a parties as they struggled to form a government, this was the way to do it. The men who blasted the shrine wore Special Police Commando uniforms (not difficult to get, really) and tied up the guards minding the shrine. This last detail is unusual because _jihadis_ usually kill the government employees who fall into their hands.

And there’s been no claim of responsibility from any Sunni insurgent groups. The only response has come from the the Mujahideen Shura Council, which is composed of seven insurgency groups in Iraq: Al Qaeda in Iraq, Victorious Army Group, the Army of al-Sunnah wal Jama’a, Ansar al-Tawhid Brigades, Islamic Jihad Brigades, the Strangers Brigades, and the Horrors Brigades. The statement read, in part:

“The Mujahideen Council declares that it will not allow this overt aggression and violation on the Sunnis and their mosques. The answer will be jolting. … The Mujahideen declare that what happened was concocted by the apostate government of Jaafari and … Iran to cover up for the crimes they commit against (Sunni) Muslims. … The incident in Samarra, which targeted one of the rejectionists’ (Shiite) idols, was followed by a series of events that show Muslims everywhere what had been prepared secretly against the Sunnis.”

That there’s no evidence for any of this is beside the point. Sunnis are quite prepared to believe the Shi’as, i.e., Iran, blew a holy shrine to cause chaos and create the pretext for a give-no-ground negotiating position in the government talks. The consequent show of Shi’a strength by means of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade also is a way of reminding the Americans who’s really calling the shots in Iraq these days. So hands off that nuclear program next door!

For the Shi’as, it’s not nearly so convoluted. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of AQI, has been trying to start a civil war for almost three years because a failed state allows him to operate freely and he comes from the hard-core anti-Shi’a branch of Salafist Islam. Simply put, the Shi’a are worse than the American infidels and they deserve to die.

In short, people are now to a point where they will believe anything that demonizes the other side. In the come days and weeks, look for the two groups to play “we’re more grieved than thou.”

Personally, I think _jihadis_ hit the Askariya shrine. I think they did everything they could to make it look like it was a Shi’a inside job so the Shi’as would rampage (as they did) and give any Sunnis who might have been considering cooperating with the new government second thoughts. Furthermore, this will slam shut any division between Ba’athists, Iraqi Islamists and _jihadis_ that the Americans had been working on for so long. Under the threat of a Shi’a onslaught, the Sunni insurgency will put aside its differences.

The silence only feeds the conspiracies and paranoia, making it harder for Sunnis and Shi’as to work together and stop this rush to oblivion.

Radio appearance

I will be appearing on WBUR, the NPR affiliate in Boston for the show, “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook at 10 a.m. EST today if anyone wants to listen in. The topic will be Iraq, civil war, etc. It will be syndicated in New York and in many other markets.

BAGHDAD — I will be appearing on WBUR, the NPR affiliate in Boston for the show, “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook at 10 a.m. EST today if anyone wants to listen in. The topic will be Iraq, civil war, etc. It will be syndicated in New York and in many other markets.
In an hour, the daytime curfew will be over, and already I can hear the chants from Shi’ite mosque down the streets. The faint rat-a-tat of automatic weapon fire is clearly audible. This could be a bad night. Let’s hope not.
UPDATE 4:24 p.m. +0300 GMT: There’s a report, unconfirmed, that a crowd of 100-700 Iraqis have gathered and are marching toward the Ministry of Interior. Approximately 50 of the crowd are armed, but so far the march has been peaceful.
UPDATE 6:10 p.m. +0300 GMT: Well, damn. Cancelled radio spot.

“We’re closer now than ever…”

Concerns grow as Friday prayers loom.

BAGHDAD — I’ve been talking to some folks today about the political crisis, and was struck by a few quotes:

“We’re closer now than ever, if we’re not already in civil war, and I don’t know what can stop it now. Except maybe U.S. troops back on the streets.” — senior Coalition advisor to the Ministry of Interior.

“This is their chance to take the political process hostage.” — from MP Mithal al-Alousi, secular politician worried about the Shi’ites using yesterday’s attack to push back against American/Kurdish/Sunni pressure to loosen their grip on the levers of power.

“We did our best to bring him into the political process.” — head of SCIRI’s political relations committee, Redha Jawad Taqi, on Moqtada al-Sadr. He is concerned that members of parliament loyal to al-Sadr resorted to threats of violence to get their way in parliament. “They believe wrong things about democracy. We hope they can be taught the rules.”

In other news around Iraq, three journalists from al-Arabiyah Television were killed in Samarra after being kidnapped some time last night. They were correspondent Atwar Bahjat, cameraman Adnan Abdallah and sound engineer Khalid Muhsin. They were covering the attack on the shrine in Samarra.

Today, the office of Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement denouncing the attack on the Askari shrine and blaming the government, the Americans and “crusaders.”