"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I am speaking, of course, about the attack today on the al-Askariya mosque in Samarra. As the Times of London notes, al-Askariya is "not just a major cathedral [sic]:"
The Shia Muslim shrine has existed in the middle of the ancient city of Samarra, one of the largest archaeological sites in the world, since 944, when it was built to house the tombs of two ninth century imams, direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
Ali al-Hadi, the tenth imam who died in 868 and his son Hassan al-Askari who died in 874, were buried at the end of the turbulent period during which Samarra was built as the new capital of the Abbasid empire, briefly taking over from Baghdad, then the largest city in the world.
But the continued and intense religious importance of the site is connected to the 12th imam, the so-called "Hidden Imam" who Shias believe went into hiding in 878 under the al-Askariya shrine to prepare for his eventual return among men.
According to Shia tradition, the Mahdi will reappear one day to punish the sinful and "separate truth from falsehood". For many years, a saddled horse and soldiers would be brought to the shrine in Samarra every day to be ready for his return, a ritual that was repeated in Hilla, about 100 miles to the south, where it was also thought that Mahdi might reappear.
"It's one of the foremost important shrines in Iraq," said Alastair Northedge, a Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the Sorbonne in Paris who has just completed an archaeological survey of Samarra.
Shi'ites are seething, and are taking to the streets at this moment. Christopher Allbritton, who is in Baghdad, writes:
Violent protests are now sweeping Iraq. People from the predominantly Shi’ite Shu’lah neighborhood in western Baghdad have attacked Sunni mosques in Ghazaliya, a nearby Sunni area. Sadr City, home base for rebel cleric — and parliamentary powerbroker — Moqtada al-Sadr, has reportedly re-armed. A Shi’ite mob also reportedly killed a man in the street they said was a Salafist or Wahabbi.
In Basrah, there are reports of heavy street fighting between Sunni and Shi’ite gunmen, and Sunni political party offices have been attacked. There are reports of attacks on a British and Danish base in Basra, but no reports of casualties yet.
And in an update to the same post:
Outraged demonstrators have burned the Sunni Waqf office in Basra. (The Waqf is the Sunni Endowment Board, and is basically a trust set up to take care of Sunni religious properties. It’s funded by the government and has an appointed head. Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the largest Sunni coalition in parliament was once head of Iraq’s Sunni Waqf board.)
Large demonstrations are scheduled for tomorrow at 10 a.m. Yikes.
Likewise, the International Herald Tribune is reporting that Shi'ite protesters have attacked "dozens" of Sunni mosques in retaliation for the al-Askariya attack.
Worse, Juan Cole notes that the conflict may well spill across the Iraqi border:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also a firm believer in the imminent coming of the Mahdi. I worry that Iranian anger will boil over as a result of this bombing of a Shiite millenarian symbol.
It is not just Ahmadinejad - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has weighed in as well:
Iran's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has announced a week of mourning following the attack Wednesday morning on one of the holiest Shiite shrines at Samarra in Iraq, and accused the Americans and Israelis of responsibility. In a statement, the Iranian leader says those behind the attack were "the occupation forces and Zionism, which seeing their plans for Iraq dissolve, have planned this atrocity to sew hate between Muslims and fuel divisions between Sunnis and Shiites". In Iran, where 90 per cent of the population is Shiite, the attack against the shrine has caused disgust and consternation.
Ayatollah Khamenei went on to appeal to Shiites to "not fall into the enemy trap by attacking mosques and sacred places of [their] Sunni brothers".
Although Khamenei's placement of blame on the US and Israel is obviously ridiculous and, perhaps, ominous, it also has the potential to be helpful - by fingering the "occupiers and Zionists," Khamenei appears to be working to defuse sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunna. Similarly, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is also calling for nonviolent protests, but both Prof. Cole and Christopher Allbritton has expressed serious doubt whether the Shi'ite rage can be contained. And with new reports of violence coming in literally minute by minute - within the last hour, the Jerusalem Post has reported that dozens of armed Shi'ites have attacked a major Sunni shrine in Basra, although it apparently sustained little damage - such pessimism seems well grounded in fact.
An unrestricted civil war in Iraq is the worst possible outcome, and most especially so if Iran becomes involved in any way. The potential for bloodshed is enormous, and the impact on the wider Middle East could be catastrophic. Humanitarian concerns aside, the worldwide economic impact of a widespread conflict between the Shia and the Sunna is almost unimaginable. And if you think that Israel and the US would not get sucked into the maelstrom, then I have a lovely Green Zone to sell you.
This horror is the direct and predictable result of George W. Bush's failed policies. There is a reason (again, humanitarian concerns aside) why international law condemns unprovoked wars of aggression in all cases - it is because wars do not lend themselves to being managed or controlled. For such a Godly man, it seems odd that Bush has apparently never heard the warning that as ye reap, so shall ye sow. The bloodstains on his hands, and on the hands of his merry band of war criminals, are indelible. Let us hope that, somehow, this crisis fades - but let us remember that hope is not a plan. Unfortunately, it is now, more than ever, abundantly clear that there is not - and never has been - a plan.