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Mayhem and martyrdom in Iraq

03/03/2004

Watching video from Baghdad and Karbala today, I found myself unsure whether an individual was bloody from the Ashura rites, or from the mortar and suicide bomber attacks that have killed nearly 150 people, or perhaps more. Then the bodies appeared on the screen.

What is behind this horror?

Many observers will immediately connect these horrible events to a letter captured by the U.S. in February. Attributed to one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it appears to be addressed to Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its most obvious feature is an extended diatribe against the Shi'ites, "the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom... a sect of treachery and betrayal throughout history and throughout the ages."

It is probably correct to connect the strategy laid out in the letter to today's carnage. The author explained his strategy as "activating" the Sunni Arab population against the Americans by provoking the Shi'ite population:

These [the Shi'a] in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in (their) religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies ... and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these Sabeans. Despite their weakness and fragmentation, the Sunnis are the sharpest blades, the most determined, and the most loyal when they meet those Batinis (Shi'a), who are a people of treachery and cowardice. They are arrogant only with the weak and can attack only the broken-winged. Most of the Sunnis are aware of the danger of these people, watch their sides, and fear the consequences of empowering them. Were it not for the enfeebled Sufi shaykhs and (Muslim) Brothers, people would have told a different tale.

This matter, with the anticipated awaking of the slumberer and rousing of the sleeper, also includes neutralizing these (Shi'a) people and pulling out their teeth before the inevitable battle, along with the anticipated incitement of the wrath of the people against the Americans, who brought destruction and were the reason for this miasma. The people must beware of licking the honeycomb and enjoying some of the pleasures from which they were previously deprived, lest they surrender to meekness, stay on the(ir) land, prefer safety, and turn away from the rattle of swords and the neighing of horses.

It was possible to anticipate this strategy as far back as last September, when a car bomb slaughtered almost 100 Shi'ite worshippers in Najaf, including Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim. On that occasion, I wrote:
One of the few bright spots in post-Saddam Iraq, the absence of sustained, large-scale ethnic or sectarian conflict, is now imperiled. But the attacks on the Americans in the "Sunni Triangle" and their allies (Jordan, the UN) in Baghdad have now spread down to Shi'ite terrority in Najaf, taking on the feel of an attempt both to intimidate Shi'ites and to discredit the American agenda in Iraq. The Najaf bombing also brings to mind the anti-Shi'ite violence that was a staple of the ancien regime. It may even have been designed to sow intercommunal conflict and spur nostalgia for the former rulers. Such feelings would be especially strong among Sunni Arabs, for whom the perpetual restiveness of the Shi'ites became a major selling point for Ba'athist rule.
Zarqawi -- or whoever in fact wrote the February letter -- seemed to take credit for the above-mentioned bombings:
Praise be to God, I have completed 25 (operations) up to now, including among the Shi'a and their symbolic figures, the Americans and their soldiers, the police and soldiers, and the coalition forces. God willing, more are to come.
Despite the Coalition's seeming inability to stop these attacks, it is far from obvious that this "bank shot" strategy is on its way to success. The mobilized Shi'ite community has proven well disclipined, and will probably continue to follow the guidance of its leadership, which has been cautious so far. Only if the Shi'ites continue to be stymied in their bid to take power -- for instance, if it becomes apparent that elections will not take place in the near future, or that elections will be elaborately structured to block a Shi'ite ascendancy -- should we expect the guns to emerge from the shrines of the south.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000213.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 02:29 AM CST [Link]

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