Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Massacre in Iraq - is this the first shot of the civil war?


The terrorists - and I mean terrorists, no Robert Fisk fastidiousness with language this time - are back in town. At least 140 dead in two attacks on mosques on the holiest day in the Shia calendar, one in Baghdad and one in Karbala. Hard not to read the symbols - Karbala, the holy city, and Baghdad, the seat of power. Hard not to read the message - which one depends on who you are, though. For the Shias: we're still here and there's nothing Sistani can do to protect you. For the Sunnis: we're still here and the Americans can't stop us - PS, you'd better toe the line. For the West: you don't know who we are, but that doesn't matter. Whether the "we" was al-Qa'ida or Sunnis or Shia extremists trying to discredit Sistani or Ba'athists - the message was that no amount of interim councils could solve this one. The style was al-Qa'ida - maximum extreme horror, staged for total outrage - but the methods seem to have been more Ba'athist or ex-Ba'athist. Both attacks are believed to have used concealed mortars, an ominous old IRA move.
And the tribal, sectarian targeting speaks of a very local Iraqi motivation. But on the same day, 41 more Shias were slaughtered in Quetta, Pakistan, with very similar tactics.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has already lashed the coalition for failing to secure the borders. Mobs reportedly set on army medics treating the wounded, a grim portent if ever there was one. Is this revolutionary terror, intended to whip up rage that might turn against the west, or is it pure religious cleansing, a horrific re-assertion of Sunni power?

In reality, I suppose, it doesn't matter. Whatever the aim was, the result will likely be the same - escalating chaos. And the real result is completely independent of any such babbling - pain.

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