Two buses blown up in Christian area

Bombs destroyed two commuter buses today in the small Christian community of Ain Alaq, in the mountains north of Beirut. Was this Syria? Hezbollah? CIA? (A Hezbollah spokesman said it was the latter.) Was it a warning to the March 14 coalition not to attend the big rally planned for downtown tomorrow to mark the two-year anniversary of Hariri’s death?

BEIRUT — Bombs destroyed two commuter buses today in the small Christian community of Ain Alaq, in the mountains north of Beirut.
Reports of fatalities varied, but ranged from three (Red Cross, security forces) to 12 (LBC and other media sources.) Ten to 20 were wounded. The first bomb was apparently attached to the undercarriage of the first bus while the second was in a back seat on the second, according to my fixer, who is trying to find more info. I’ll update if this changes.
The wounded were civilians possibly traveling to work, marking a change in the “two-year campaign of bombings and assassinations”:http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L13582123.htm that has wracked Lebanon since the killing of Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005. Before, the attacks were either targeted assassinations of well-known anti-Syrian politicians and journalists or small bombs exploded in buildings late at night so as to minimize casualties. This seems aimed at Iraq- or Israel-style terror. Random, anywhere, pitiless.
Details are still emerging, but speculation is rampant. Was this Syria? Hezbollah? CIA? (A Hezbollah spokesman said it was the latter.) Was it a warning to the March 14 coalition not to attend the big rally planned for downtown tomorrow to mark the two-year anniversary of Hariri’s death?
One intriguing connection is to Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defense minister. The buses originated in Bteghrin, the home of the Murr family — they’re the major clan there — and some have wondered if this could be a response to Murr’s “refusal last week to return a truck full of Hezbollah weapons”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6345761.stm intercepted by the Lebanese Army?
Elias Murr was the target of a failed assassination in July 2005.
I’m not convinced of that, as it would be a complete turn-around for Hezbollah, who have not (yet) turned their weapons on their fellow Lebanese — a point of pride for the group.
Also, the attack happened near Bikfaya, the ancestral home of the Gemayel clan. Several of the dead were Gemayels. Lebanon’s industry minister, Pierre Gemayel “was assassinated”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/11/pierre_gemayel_has_been_assass.php in November.
Michel Murr, the defense minister’s father, was at the site of the bombing and said it was a message for all Lebanese to come together and transcend politics. That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s almost assuredly _not_ the message the bombers were trying to send.
More likely, it was a warning to March 14.
“They are trying to sabotage tomorrow’s meeting,” said Ahmad Fatfat, the former interior minister. “They are trying to divide the Christians. … The people who are doing this don’t want the people to come together and it’s another link in the chain” of assassinations.
“I cannot believe any Lebanese is capable of doing such a terrible thing,” he added.
Fatfat also said the bombs were placed on the buses yesterday, although he declined to say how he knew that.
Obviously, Fatfat is not-so-subtlely pointing the finger at Syria. A Hezbollah spokesman said the same thing, but blamed the CIA instead of Syria.
I witnessed this in Iraq, too, by the way, early in the insurgency. In 2004, when the violence was much more sporadic and rare than it is now, Iraqis would often tell me, “These bombs could not come from Iraqis. No Iraqi would hurt another Iraqi. This must be the Israelis or CIA.”
There’s always a natural tendency to believe that outsiders are the ones doing the killing. Witness the immediate reaction to the Murrah Building in 1995. Everyone immediately suspected Arab terrorism, not home-grown white supremacists.
But right now, especially on the eve of the anniversary of the killing of Hariri, everyone in Lebanon — Hezbollah, March 14, etc. — is banking on national unity for their own purposes. “Hariri was for all of us,” as many say. Other parties — Syria, especially, but possibly Israel — would love to see Lebanese at each others’ throats. Syria could use any violence as an “I told you so” excuse to intervene again, and Israel probably wouldn’t mind seeing Hezbollah on the defensive in its own country.
(Mind you, I’m not accusing Israel of today’s bombing; I’m just analyzing who might stand to gain from Lebanese discord.)
*UNRELATED (?) NEWS:* The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the highest ranking Sunni cleric in country, claims in a press release to LBC that he was heckled and threatened by the pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-led March 8 protesters as he led prayers at Hariri’s grave in Martyr’s Square downtown today. He says he was told to leave or they would burn his car.
(March 8 is a coalition of mostly Shi’ite parties and some Christians, and includes Hezbollah, Amal, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Christian parties of Michel Aoun and Suleiman Franjieh. With the exception of Aoun, they are all solidly pro-Syrian. Aoun just wants to be president and will hitch his horse to whichever wagon he thinks will win.)
Also, in this morning’s _San Francisco Chronicle_, I have a story about the “rearming of the Lebanese factions.”:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/02/13/MNG62O3F5U1.DTL&hw=allbritton&sn=001&sc=1000 It might become very relevant after today.

Beirut in flames

hard_days_work.jpg
An opposition member cradles the head of an exhausted comrade as they take a break from blocking roads in Beirut on Tuesday (c) 2007 Christopher Allbritton
BEIRUT — If there was any question whether Hezbollah was in control of the situation here following the violence of Tuesday, the fighting today should convince those that it is not, and the situation is about to be seriously out of control.
To back up a little, Tuesday’s violence seemed to shock even the leaders of Hezbollah, both because its Aounists and Amal allies behaved like hooligans, but also because the followers of Saad Hariri and Samir Geagea refused to back down and matched slogan with slogan, stick with stick, stone with stone.
At one neighborhood in Beirut, where the fighting was fiercest, the largely Sunni supporters of al-Mustaqbal chanted their support for America (in response to the chants of “Iran! Iran!” and “Bashar! Syria!” by Amal supporters across the street.) They also, bizarrely, hoisted a poster of Saddam Hussein, indicating that the Sunni-Shi’a conflict from Iraq has poisoned the atmosphere in Lebanon now, too.
This is about to be a full-on sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shi’a and within the Christian community.
That’s why Hezbollah and its allies called off their strike after a day, despite many promises by the men on the street I saw who said they would continue the strike “for days,” if necessary.
“Do you not think Hezbollah loves Lebanon?” asked Bilal, a Hezbollah supporter I spoke with as his compatriots burned a car to block the road leading the airport. “Of course we do, which is why we are prepared to stay out here for days, weeks.”
More ominously, today’s violence shows that Hezbollah no longer controls the opposition movement it created. Months of animosity over the war, the parliamentary paralysis and calls for changing the government has hardened positions among the Sunni, who increasingly see the Shi’a as responsible for last summer’s war and more loyal to Iran than to Lebanon. In short, the Shi’ite militant group has pushed its political opponents too far.
Already this has spread beyond the capital. The Lebanese Army has been deployed to Chtoura and Baalbak in the Bekaa and there are as yet unconfirmed reports that the road to old road to Sidon has been closed. By whom, we don’t know.
Four people are dead and at least 25 injured and while this flare-up might be contained, the next one appears inevitable. And next time it won’t be fought with sticks and stones.

“The blood of the Shi’ites is boiling”

Here’s the latest I filed from Lebanon. “A much shorter version”:http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-10/116556152129650.xml&coll=1 appeared in the _Newark Star-Ledger_, but here’s the full account:

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s capital is once again a tinderbox, ready to blow because of political rivalries exacerbated by sectarian tensions. Increasingly, the political disputes — which are ostensibly over international tribunals, presidential terms and the legitimacy of a government — have grown into religious disputes, mirroring the sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites across the region.
Which leader one supporters is often determined by one’s faith. Shi’ites support the Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who has called for the overthrow of the current government as being too close to the United States and cutting Shi’ites out of power for too long. Sunnis, however, support the current government because it is lead by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who is a member of the Future Movement, a political party headed Saad Hariri, the son of the murdered ex-premier Rafik, who was killed in 2005.
“The political issues are sectarian,” explained Tariq Tarqawi, 20, who is, in order, a Palestinian, a Sunni and a car electrician. He lives in Ard Jalloul, a mainly Sunni neighborhood that abuts the mainly Shi’ite suburbs of Beirut. “They love Nasrallah, we love Hariri.”
It’s a political crisis that has come to a head in the past week, with hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian supporters filling downtown Beirut and street clashes between Sunni and Shi’ite youths from rival neighborhoods. Nasrallah says his people will continue to demonstrate and paralyze central Beirut until the government resigns. Siniora says he’s staying. Where this ends up is anyone’s guess, but it’s already turned deadly.
Ali Ahmad Mahmoud, a 20-year-old Shi’ite from the neighborhood, was killed Sunday night in fighting between Shi’ites and Sunnis in Ard Jalloul. Details are murky, but residents say Shi’ite protesters apparently entered the neighborhood spoiling for a fight.
“If we hadn’t fought them, they would have come in here and broken everything,” said Khalid Hashem, 20, a Sunni from the neighborhood. He was, he added, a friend of Mahmoud. “The Shi’ites are known for this.”
According to others, the intruders chanted slogans and insulted Sunni religious figures.
“We could not bear it anymore,” said one woman in a pharmacy whose husband would not allow her name to be used. “I did not like Hariri and I had nothing against the Shi’ites, but now things are changing. This is not a political demonstration anymore.”
Both Shi’ite and Sunni partisans blame the other side for the shooting, but the question remains: Who killed Ali Ahmad Mahmoud?
The situation is so knife-edge balanced that the head of Lebanese army warned that his forces were being strained to the breaking point as they tried to cope with the security downtown and maintain calm through the tenser neighborhoods of the city. If the protests continued, or worse, turned more violent, the army would be unable to cope, he said.
On Monday, Mahmoud’s body was taken down to the demonstration surrounding the Grand Serail, the old Ottoman fortress that serves as the prime minister’s office and now, the sleeping quarters for a significant portion of Siniora’s cabinet.
The sight of Mahmoud’s coffin brought a fresh surge of fury at the government and protestors crowded around the ambulance carrying it. Many carried signs proclaiming Mahmoud a martyr. “Martyred at the hands of the government’s militias,” read one.
Almost gone were the initial political considerations that had brought the hundreds of thousands into downtown Beirut: the international tribunal, presidential terms and Shi’ite representation. Monday was a day of mourning and passion.
“The blood of the Shi’ites is boiling,” chanted the protestors. “Death to Siniora.”
Downtown Beirut is a tent city, with the canvas constructions lined up below the Grand Serail, like many a besieging army has done over the centuries in this part of the world. At any hour, chanting protestors crowd up against coils of concertina wire while Lebanese Army and Hezbollah discipline men keep them relatively at bay.
For Iman Fakhiya, 29, from the Shi’ite town of Taibe in the south, this protest is simply a matter of fairness for the Shi’ites, who have traditionally been the underdogs in Lebanon.
Hezbollah gained support in the south because the government in Beirut rarely provided services to the rural and impoverished South and Bekaa Valley, the homelands for the country’s Shi’ites. And over 23 years, since its formation in 1982, it has softened its Islamic rhetoric, and now provides for Shi’ites when the government doesn’t, such as schools and hospitals, and defends them when the elite of Lebanon won’t. Even today, on online forums revolving around events in Beirut, supporters of the government often talk of the Shi’ites downtown as “scum” and dirty outsiders.
“I think my parents’ generation accepted this but we won’t,” she said. “They want to keep us down. We just want our rights. Why is the presidency for the Christians and the prime ministership for the Sunnis?”
For her, it is only a matter of time, literally. She would stay for as long as it takes, she said, no matter how uncomfortable she was.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said as she pulled the blanket tighter. “We’ve been hurting for a long time. We are used to it.”

Also, I’ll be traveling for the next few weeks, so postings will be infrequent. I hope things don’t get out of control here.
IMPORTANT CHANGE: Comments have been changed to allow authenticated commenters only. This means you will have to sign up for a “TypeKey”:https://www.typekey.com/t/typekey/register?lang=en-us account to comment. This will cut down on spam and drive-by commenters. Sorry for the inconvenience, but it’s a necessary evil these days.

The Birthplace of Civil War

AIN EL-RUMMANE, Lebanon — It’s an odd place to start a war.

Ain el-Rummane, a Christian neighborhood in the hills above Beirut occupies an ominous place in Lebanese history. It was here, in 1975, near a statue of the Virgin, that a bus full of Palestinian refugees was ambushed by Christian militiamen. It was a massacre in response to an assassination attempt, and the reprisals it generated in turn quickly grew into the Lebanese civil war.

And now this residential neighborhood may provide some of the soldiers to fight in a new one. Members of the Lebanese Forces, the same militia that killed the Palestinians in 1975, still claim Ain el-Rummane as home and they simmered Wednesday, the day after the grandson of the founder of their political party was killed by assassins on a busy Beirut street in mid-afternoon.

“One more mistake and we will take the streets with our hands,” said Arz Wehbe, 27, a member of the militia. “There are no weapons out now, but when it becomes serious, we will take weapons from under the ground.”

The assassination of the 34-year-old Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s minister of industry, on Tuesday was the latest, most ominous development in Lebanon’s latest, most ominous political crisis that began in February 2005 with the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Since then, Lebanon has seen five assassinations, 15 bombings, a vicious war between Hezbollah and Israel and an attempt by the Shi’ite group to topple the elected government.

But Gemayel’s death is more than just another assassination, because he was the first sitting member of government to be killed and his death brings the spectre of a government collapse closer than ever. Two weeks ago, five Shi’ite ministers and a pro-Syrian Christian minister resigned from Fuad Siniora’s U.S.-backed cabinet over the issue of the approval of an international tribunal on Hariri’s killing — which many think would implicate senior Syrian officials. Other politicians gave ominous warnings that Syria would try to assassinate some of the remaining cabinet ministers in order to reduce it below its quorum level of 16 members. With Gemayel’s death, only two ministers stand against its dissolution, and with it the international tribunal.

In Lebanon, history casts a long shadow. It was an attempt on the life of his grandfather, the Phalangist Party founder who was also named Pierre Gemayel, that sparked the massacre in Ain el-Rummane 31 years ago.

“We will not shut up, we will not be silent,” said Wehbe. “Even if the country is destroyed, we will stay.”

Another Lebanese Forces loyalist, Simon Ghanime, 39, said that everyone was ready to take to the streets. They were just waiting for word from their leaders, Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, and Amin Gemayel, the slain man’s father and a former president.

“At the end of the day, you have to defend yourself,” Ghanime said. “I listen always to my leader.”
And if, at the end of the day, Geagea or Amin Gemayel says fight?

“Then we have to fight,” he said with a shrug. “They are hunting us (Christians) like birds.”

For now Amin Gemayel has counseled patience and prayer in Bikfaya where his son would be buried on Thursday. But in Beirut and its suburbs like Ain el-Rummane, angry men prowled the streets.

“I won’t leave Lebanon to the Shi’ites or the Syrians,” said Charbel Nasrallah, 24, from a massive convoy that was passing the Phalangist Party Headquarters in East Beirut. “We don’t want Syrians or Iranians to decide our fates. We will.”

But even within the ranks of Lebanon’s right-wing Christians, there are those with less appetite for confrontation.

“The aim of March 8” — the name of the pro-Syrian coalition — “is to get us to fight,” said a former Lebanese Forces fighter who gave his name only as Carlos. “We can’t slip into this trap. It’s in their interest to get us to fight, but we don’t want that.”

Another man who was taping pictures of the slain Gemayel to his car and who gave his name only as Eli echoed the idea that Lebanon’s Christians must unite and not fall into the trap of violence set by Syria and other foreign powers. But he said that even he would fight if his leaders told him to.

“To ensure the Christians stay in this part of the world?” he asked. “Of course I would fight.”

Originally published in the Newark Star-Ledger.

Pierre Gemayel has been assassinated

BEIRUT — Pierre Gemayel, industry minister in the Siniora cabinet, a major Christian leader and an anti-Syrian politician has been shot to death in the street. This comes at an extremely tense time in which the anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian camps are close to coming to blows.

I don’t know much right now, but this could be the spark in the can of gasoline that Lebanon has become.

UPDATE: Here’s the story I filed for the San Francisco Chronicle:

BEIRUT — With the killing of Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s industry minister and the scion of one its most influential Christian families, Lebanese politics took a dangerous turn with the Christian community deeply split and the U.S.-backed government more under siege than ever.

Gemayel, 34, a member of Lebanon’s political elite, was killed at approximately 3:30 p.m. gangland style Tuesday when his car was rammed by two other cars and gunmen leaped out and sprayed his vehicle with assault rife fire.

His body was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in a Christian neighborhood on the outskirts of Beirut. As the news broke, several hundred supporters of the Phalangist party, gathered as a show of solidarity and an outlet for their rage against their Christian rivals, the Free Patriotic Movement, and Shi’ites.

“Fuck Nasrallah!” many chanted, referring to the leader of the Shi’ite militia Hezbollah. “Fuck Michel Aoun!”

Aoun is the head of the FPM, and there has been bad blood between the Gemayel family, Aoun and the Shi’ites in Lebanon for years. During the latter days of the Lebanese civil war, forces loyal to Aoun battled Christian members of the Phalangist and Lebanese Forces militias in some of the bloodiest battles of that 15-year-long conflict. Pierre Gemayel himself infamously said last year that Shi’ites may have the numbers, but the Christians had the “quality” to run the country.

The crowd at the hospital veered dangerously in its moods. One moment, it was a mass of somber grievers and the next it came dangerously close to being a lynch mob for anyone they thought might be friendly to Hezbollah or Aoun.

“The enemies of Lebanon are known: Aoun, Nasrallah,” said Joseph Germanos, a party loyalist. “They want to create a new war.”

The assassination was roundly denounced, including by Hezbollah, but Aoun gave a press statement that was remarkable in its brevity and lack of emotion. “This crime is against the unity of the Lebanese and is an attempt to sow discord among the Christian ranks,” he said in a flat tone. “I invite all Lebanese to remain calm, and I offer my deepest sympathies to Sheikh Amin Gemayel, and to his wife and family, the Phalangists and to all Lebanese.”

Today is the 70th anniversary of the founding if the Phalange Party by Gemayel’s grandfather, also named Pierre Gemayel.

Last week, Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, warned that a campaign of assassinations was in the works and would be aimed at the remaining members of the cabinet in a bid to force its collapse.

“They are killing our Christian leaders so the truth won’t show,” Germanos said.

There is a widespread sentiment among many Lebanese that Syria is behind a string of 15 car bombings, including five assassinations, that started Feb. 14, 2005 with a massive truck bomb that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others. The U.S.-backed government of Fuad Siniora, which is supported by an anti-Syrian bloc in parliament, recently voted to approve an international tribunal that would try suspects in the killings. Many in Lebanon expect the court’s findings to implicate high-level Syrians in the terror campaign against Lebanon.

But the five Shi’ite ministers in the cabinet representing Hezbollah and its allies, along with a pro-Syrian Christian minister, resigned ahead of the vote in protest and said Siniora’s government was unconstitutional because of the lack of Shi’ite representation. Hezbollah then ratcheted up tensions in the country with promises of massive protests, expected on Thursday, it says are designed to bring about the collapse of the Siniora government. Under Lebanon’s political rules, if nine of the Cabinet’s 24 ministers resign or are absent, the government must resign. With the death of Gemayel, only two ministers stand in the way of this outcome.

Ironically, however, the murder of Gemayel could put Hezbollah on the defensive because of its close ties to Syria and force the militia into a compromise.

“It puts Hezbollah in the embarrassing position in the sense that they have been so blatantly defending Syria’s interests,” said Reinoud Leenders, an assistant professor of international relations at the University of Amsterdam and a former analyst for the International Crisis Group in Beirut. “They have been put in the Syrian camp much more than in the past. I just have a sense that people are skeptical of Hezbollah’s recent moves.”

With the likely Security Council approval of the international tribunal on Thursday, Syria may be playing a double game, speculates Leenders. Washington has been reaching out to Damascus recently for help in Iraq, and the regime there may be trying to make a point to the United States.

“I wouldn’t rule out them being a pain in the neck and at the same time reaching out to Washington,” he said. “They might be trying to convey a message: ‘You have to talk to us, because otherwise we can be a pain in the neck.’ I wouldn’t rule out them being behind it.”

Already, youths surrounding the Phalangist headquarters in East Beirut say they plan to stay in the streets as a counter to any demonstrations Hezbollah might plan. These demonstrations by the anti-Syrian camp could “pre-empt” the Hezbollah one and weaken their effectiveness, said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Center for International Peace and an expert on Hezbollah.

“March 8 will have a hard time with the demonstrations now,” she said “March 8” is what Hezbollah and its other pro-Syrian allies calls its coalition. Christian sympathy for Aoun also may leech away, she said.

But the threat of massive street protests by Hezbollah and the Aounists still looms, and the possibility of renewed civil conflict between the two camps is very real.

“All the elements are there for clashes, and pretty serious ones,” said Leenders. “The political process is bogged down, the talk of war, the creepy signs before the storm atmosphere. I’m pretty worried.”

When asked if they were prepared to fight their enemies in the street, one young man in the crowd at the hospital, who declined to give his name other than Kataeb — Arabic for “Phalangist” — said, “We lost everything. We don’t have anything to lose again.”

Another young man said he was just waiting for the signal from Pierre’s father, Amin Gemayel, a former president of Lebanon.

“Whatever President Gemayel says,” said David Jaara, 25. “We are prepared for 10,000 martyrs, 20,000. We are prepared.”

Misimpressions about Lebanon

BEIRUT — Well, the oafs at Little Green Footballs are at it again. Of course, they never stopped. But it gives me a chance to point out the sheer wrongness of their worldview and clear up some wrong ideas about Lebanon. At the end of the day, we all learn something, right?

Anyway, LGF is warning that Lebanon is hanging in the balance with Hezbollah’s coming putsch against the American-friendly Siniora government. Now, like a broken clock, even bloviating idiots can be right now and then assuming they talk enough, but the LGF’s commenters of course blow it:

There should be some way to get Lebanese Christians out of there before it’s too late.

I have a couple of frends, Lebanese Christians, that still have family there. I hope they get out before it’s too late.

The Christian city dwellers will rue the day they let these savages immigrate. (not sure what this means… — CA)

The Christians in Beirut have been whistling past the graveyard.

Christians are being heavily persecuted in most of the muslim countries, with the worst in the ME. Persecution.com has lots of information about it.

Lebanon

In 1968 70% Christian.

In 2006 45% Christian.

The gain was almost all for the muslims; the palestinian tsunami.

Such comments always inspire in me a Lou Reed-size world-weary sigh. Yes, it’s all so simple: evil Muslims, persecuted Christians.

Except, it’s completely wrong.

Hezbollah’s strongest ally in its push to topple the government is … Christian. It’s the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Maronite politician Michel Aoun, a man who’s so obsessed with being President that he will ally with the people who work for his old enemy: Syria.

And the Free Patriotic Movement is supported by — by some estimates — up to 70 percent of Lebanon’s Christians. The rest fall mainly into Samir Geagea’s camp, the Lebanese Forces, a party/militia that owes traces it its pedegree to the Hitler Youth of the 1930s. (No wonder the LGF ogres like it.)

This current political fight here has very little to do with Christian vs. Muslims. Instead, it’s a fight between a pro-Syrian bloc (Hezbollah, Amal, FPM and a few smaller parties) and an anti-Syrian bloc (Future Movement, Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist Party). And this split in the Lebanese political society mirrors the greater struggle for the Middle East: the contest for influence between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There’s lot more to say about this — I’ve written about it before “here”:http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/02/INGIJJM87B1.DTL&hw=allbritton&sn=001&sc=1000 and “here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/11/lebanon_hurtles_toward_crisis.php — but I’m on deadline. More later, if possible.

Oh, and comments are still fubar’ed. Still trying to fix that.

Another massacre?

The BBC is reporting another possible massacre of Iraqi civilians, this time in Ishaqi, 60 miles north of Baghdad. Up to 11 people may have been “deliberately shot” by U.S. troops.

BEIRUT — Oh, man. The BBC is reporting another possible massacre of Iraqi civilians, this time in Ishaqi, 60 miles north of Baghdad. Up to 11 people may have been “deliberately shot” by U.S. troops.

The video appears to challenge the US military’s account of events that took place in the town of Ishaqi in March.
The US said at the time four people died during a military operation, but Iraqi police claimed that US troops had deliberately shot the 11 people.
A spokesman for US forces in Iraq told the BBC an inquiry was under way.

The military says it was a firefight with Iraqi insurgents, and in the course of the battle a house collapsed under heavy fire, killing a suspect, two women and a child. But Iraqi police said the Americans rounded up 11 people and shot them in the house. They then blew up the building.
The BBC says the tape, provided by a hardline Sunni group opposed to the occupation, showed bodies with clear gunshot wounds and appeared to be genuine.
Now, just because a Sunni group supplied this video doesn’t mean it should be discounted. Greeted with skepticism, yes, discounted, no. The group that brought the Haditha video to our attention at TIME was a Sunni NGO opposed to the American presence, and Haditha looks to be exactly as they described it: a massacre. Also, it makes absolute sense that a Sunni group would be the messenger. Thanks to the rampant sectarianism, only Sunni groups can operate in Sunni areas, and they’re bearing the brunt of the violence from the U.S.
So why don’t they play up the horrors of the Shi’ite groups that are also massacring Sunni families? Well, it wouldn’t do any good. Anyone think the Iraqi government is going to be particularly responsive when the Shi’ite prime minister (Jaafari) appointed a Shi’ite Interior Minister (Jabr) who “packed his ministry with Shi’ite death squads”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/03/neither_a_good_war_nor_a_badr.php while America dithered and/or trained them? Of course not.
But, also, this is what happens when democracies go to war in a media age: The innocents — or aggrieved — take their case to the American people. If their own government won’t protect them, perhaps the people that elected the government that put their government in place will. It’s a vain hope, I know, but what else do they have left?
*UPDATE 6/2/06 8:16:40 PM +0200:* “U.S. military denies allegations of Ishaqi massacre”:http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=2032795&page=1.

ABC News has learned that military officials have completed their investigation and concluded that U.S. forces followed the rules of engagement.
A senior Pentagon official told ABC News the investigation concluded that the allegations of intentional killings of civilians by American forces are unfounded.