Adam Ash

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Mosque in rubble, and so is Bush's Iraq policy

1. Askari Mosque Bombing is Bigger Than You Think -- by Geov Parrish

It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of Wednesday Morning's destruction of the Askari mosque, a key Shi'a shrine, in Samarra, Iraq. The response, of course, has been swift, violent, and overwhelming. As of late Thursday Iraq time, the Australian Broadcast Corp. placed the national death toll from reprisals at 130, with most of the victims being Sunni. The hardline Sunni Clerical Association of Muslim Scholars claimed that 168 Sunni mosques have been attacked, and some burned to the ground, with 10 imams murdered and another 15 kidnapped since the bombing. Despite widespread appeals for calm, the violence continues, fueled by Shiite militias which seem to have been poised for just such a reason for attacking Sunni targets.

There was immediate political fallout, too. In response to the reprisals, on Thursday the Iraqi Accordance Front, the Sunni electoral group that had won 44 parliamentary seats in the Dec. 15 election, angrily pulled out of talks aimed at forming a government of national unity. On the same day, a group of leading Sunni clerics issued a remarkably blunt criticism of their Shiite counterparts, charging that calls for protest in the wake of the bombing had fueled the violence.

In other words, it's a mess. And despite the American media's fixation on an Arab company buying U.S. ports, this is a far, far more important story.

While radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr (whose militia has mustered in protest) and Iran's hardline cleric leaders blamed the U.S. and Israel for the attacks, most of the speculation as to responsibility is focusing on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Sunni terrorist leader whose group's attacks on Shiite targets and loose affiliation with al-Qaeda have long made him the leading focus of American "War on Terror" attention. Even before Wednesday's attack, al-Zarqawi's skillful use of the invasion of Iraq as a terrorist recruiting tool, his direct assaults on American and British targets, and his sophisticated use of Iraq as a testing ground for terror techniques have allowed him to easily surpass Osama bin Laden in terms of street credibility in the Muslim world.

If al-Zarqawi is, in fact, the culprit -- and it's certainly his style -- it remains to be seen how his attack on the shrine, one of Shi'a's holiest sites, will affect that standing. But in the short term, fomenting all-out civil war serves Zarqawi's purposes well. Even if it does not lead to the disintegration of Iraq's fledgling, Shiite-led government, it will (and already has) provoked bloody reprisals that can easily be linked to and used to discredit a government that already stands accused of anti-Sunni torture and death squads. While the majority of Iraqis almost certainly want to avoid all-out civil war, with so much weaponry in the country and such a long history of injustices perpetrated by all sides, this may have been the match that lit the tinderbox.

What can the United States do? Almost nothing. So far, it has invested almost all of its efforts in promoting the legitimacy of the elected, Shiite-led government, even though that government will be closely aligned with Iran, has already perpetrated well-documented abuses, and has essentially imposed repressive Sharia law in the parts of the country (such as the South) where it has firmest control. Washington worked hard to get Sunni parties like the Iraqi Accordance Front to invest in the legitimacy of this political process; it only took 24 hours of ethnic reprisals to destroy those efforts. Sunnis were already leading the anti-American insurgency, and because of our strong political pressure to include them in the government anyway, many Shiites now believe Washington is siding with the Sunnis. (Hence, the wilder accusations that Washington was behind the original bombing.) The Kurds, also, are seeing their dreams of autonomy under the new constitution threatened. As the inevitable waves of violence and counter-violence wear on, America is left with virtually no friends on any side, and virtually no credibility (other than its sheer military manpower, which it has been reluctant to deploy en masse ) as a mediator that can stop the bloodshed.

One of the likeliest outcomes of this attack is an escalation, perhaps a dramatic one, in Iraq's civil war. Another outcome is the likely involvement, finally of the U.N. in Iraqi peacemaking efforts, as the agency is brought in to do the job that Washington plainly cannot effectively do. But don't look for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq any time soon. President Bush will keep them there due to the civil war and may perhaps even expand their presence, ostensibly to curb the violence -- even though we likely will provoke far more violence than we prevent.

But the biggest fallout is likely to be political. Unless Washington and other foreign powers decree otherwise, Iraq -- if it stays together as a nation-state, an outcome the U.S. and the rest of the West is strongly vested in -- is almost certainly going to be led in the future by its 60% Shiite majority. The question is which Shiites will lead. If the present government fails to form and/or disintegrates, the void is likely to be filled by more radical leaders, particularly clerics like al-Sadr. Al-Sadr has gone in less than three years from being a little-known rebel cleric that occupying U.S. forces identified as a wanted criminal, to being a central power broker among Shiites. Out of this chaos, he, or someone ideologically similar, could well be the one who seizes power -- If so, Iraq's transition from a savage secular dictatorship (under Saddam) to a savage cleric-led dictatorship, a transition made possible by George Bush, will be complete.

In the interim, there is an immediate and stark risk of even more of an escalation in Iraq's bloodshed, and, as has already been the case, the primary victims will be civilians. More measured leaders on all sides, not to mention all of the international community, would like to avoid this outcome. But it may not be possible. The die has already been cast. In many ways, it was cast at the time of America's invasion, and something like the bombing of the Askari mosque was inevitable at some point.

Nonetheless, the bombing is a critical turning point. This has been an attack which has turned not only a mosque, but George Bush's entire Ira policy, to rubble.

(Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter for Seattle Weekly ,In These Times and Eat the State! He writes the daily Straight Shot for WorkingForChange . He can be reached by email at

2. Who Benefits? – by Dahr Jamail

The most important question to ask regarding the bombings of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on the 22nd is: who benefits?

Prior to asking this question, let us note the timing of the bombing. The last weeks in Iraq have been a PR disaster for the occupiers.

First, the negative publicity of the video of British soldiers beating and abusing young Iraqis has generated a backlash for British occupation forces they've yet to face in Iraq.

Indicative of this, Abdul Jabbar Waheed, the head of the Misan provincial council in southern Iraq, announced his councils' decision to lift the immunity British forces have enjoyed, so that the soldiers who beat the young Iraqis can be tried in Iraqi courts. Former U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer had issued an order granting all occupation soldiers and western contractors immunity to Iraqi law when he was head of the CPA'but this province has now decided to lift that so the British soldiers can be investigated and tried under Iraqi law.

This deeply meaningful event, if replicated around Iraq, will generate a huge rift between the occupiers and local governments. A rift which, of course, the puppet government in Baghdad will be unable to mend.

The other huge event which drew Iraqis into greater solidarity with one another was more photos and video aired depicting atrocities within Abu Ghraib at the hands of U.S. occupation forces.

The inherent desecration of Islam and shaming of the Iraqi people shown in these images enrages all Iraqis.

In a recent press conference, the aforementioned Waheed urged the Brits to allow members of the provincial committee to visit a local jail to check on detainees; perhaps Waheed is alarmed as to what their condition may be after seeing more photos and videos from Abu Ghraib.

Waheed also warned British forces that if they didn't comply with the demands of the council, all British political, security and reconstruction initiatives will be boycotted.

Basra province has already taken similar steps, and similar machinations are occurring in Kerbala.

Basra and Misan provinces, for example, refused to raise the cost of petrol when the puppet government in Baghdad, following orders from the IMF, decided to recently raise the cost of Iraqi petrol at the pumps several times last December.

The horrific attack which destroyed much of the Golden Mosque generated sectarian outrage which led to attacks on over 50 Sunni mosques. Many Sunni mosques in Baghdad were shot, burnt, or taken over. Three Imams were killed, along with scores of others in widespread violence.

This is what was shown by western corporate media.

As quickly as these horrible events began, they were called to an end and replaced by acts of solidarity between Sunni and Shia across Iraq.

This, however, was not shown by western corporate media.

The Sunnis where the first to go to demonstrations of solidarity with Shia in Samarra, as well as to condemn the mosque bombings. Demonstrations of solidarity between Sunni and Shia went off over all of Iraq: in Basra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Salah al-Din.

Thousands of Shia marched shouting anti-American slogans through Sadr City, the huge Shia slum area of Baghdad, which is home to nearly half the population of the capital city. Meanwhile, in the primarily Shia city of Kut, south of Baghdad, thousands marched while shouting slogans against America and Israel and burning U.S. and Israeli flags.

Baghdad had huge demonstrations of solidarity, following announcements by several Shia religious leaders not to attack Sunni mosques.

Attacks stopped after these announcements, coupled with those from Sadr, which I'll discuss shortly.

Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, shortly after the Golden Mosque was attacked, called for 'easing things down and not attacking any Sunni mosques and shrines,' as Sunni religious authorities called for a truce and invited everyone to block the way of those trying to generate a sectarian war.

Sistani's office issued this statement: 'We call upon believers to express their protest ... through peaceful means. The extent of their sorrow and shock should not drag them into taking actions that serve the enemies who have been working to lead Iraq into sectarian strife.'

Shiite religious authority Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr warned of the emergence of a sectarian strife 'that terrorists want to ignite between the Iraqis' by the bombings and said, 'The Iraqi Shiite authority strenuously denied that Sunnis could have done this work.'

He also said, 'Of course it is not Sunnis who did this work; it is the terrorists who are the enemies of the Shiites and Sunni, Muslims and non Muslims. They are the enemies of all religions; terrorism does not have a religion.'

He warned against touching any Sunni Mosque, saying, 'our Sunni brothers' mosques must be protected and we must all stand against terrorism and sabotage.' He added: 'The two shrines are located in the Samarra region, which [is] predominantly Sunni. They have been protecting, using and guarding the mosques for years, it is not them but terrorism that targeted the mosques''

He ruled out the possibility of a civil war while telling a reporter, 'I don't believe there will a civil or religious war in Iraq; thank God that our Sunni and Shiite references are urging everyone to not respond to these terrorist and sabotage acts. We are aware of their attempts as are our people; Sistani had issued many statements [regarding this issue] just as we did.'

The other, and more prominent Sadr, Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has already lead two uprisings against occupation forces, held Takfiris [those who regard other Muslims as infidels], Ba'thists, and especially the foreign occupation responsible for the bombing attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra.

Sadr, who suspended his visit to Lebanon and cancelled his meeting with the president there, promptly returned to Iraq in order to call on the Iraqi parliament to vote on the request for the departure of the occupation forces from Iraq.

'It was not the Sunnis who attaced the shrine of Imam Al-Hadi, God's peace be upon him, but rather the occupation [forces] and Ba'athists'God damn them. We should not attack Sunni mosques. I ordered Al-Mahdi Army to protect the Shi'i and Sunni shrines.'

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, urged Iraqi Shia not to seek revenge against Sunni Muslims, saying there were definite plots 'to force the Shia to attack the mosques and other properties respected by the Sunni. Any measure to contribute to that direction is helping the enemies of Islam and is forbidden by sharia.'

Instead, he blamed the intelligence services of the U.S. and Israel for being behind the bombs at the Golden Mosque.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that those who committed the attack on the Golden Mosque 'have only one motive: to create a violent sedition between the Sunnis and the Shiites in order to derail the Iraqi rising democracy from its path.'

Well said Mr. Blair, particularly when we keep in mind the fact that less than a year ago in Basra, two undercover British SAS soldiers were detained by Iraqi security forces whilst traveling in a car full of bombs and remote detonators.

Jailed and accused by Muqtada al-Sadr and others of attempting to generate sectarian conflict by planting bombs in mosques, they were broken out of the Iraqi jail by the British military before they could be tried.

3. Iraq's Death Squads: On the Brink of Civil War
Most of the corpses in Baghdad's mortuary show signs of torture and execution. And the Interior Ministry is being blamed.
By Andrew Buncombe and Patrick Cockburn

Hundreds of Iraqis are being tortured to death or summarily executed every month in Baghdad alone by death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior, the United Nations' outgoing human rights chief in Iraq has revealed.

John Pace, who left Baghdad two weeks ago, told The Independent on Sunday that up to three-quarters of the corpses stacked in the city's mortuary show evidence of gunshot wounds to the head or injuries caused by drill-bits or burning cigarettes. Much of the killing, he said, was carried out by Shia Muslim groups under the control of the Ministry of the Interior.

Much of the statistical information provided to Mr Pace and his team comes from the Baghdad Medico-Legal Institute, which is located next to the city's mortuary. He said figures show that last July the morgue alone received 1,100 bodies, about 900 of which bore evidence of torture or summary execution. The pattern prevailed throughout the year until December, when the number dropped to 780 bodies, about 400 of which had gunshot or torture wounds.

"It's being done by anyone who wishes to wipe out anybody else for various reasons," said Mr Pace, who worked for the UN for more than 40 years in countries ranging from Liberia to Chile. "But the bulk are attributed to the agents of the Ministry of the Interior."

Coupled with the suicide bombings and attacks on Shia holy places carried out by Sunnis, some of whom are followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qa'ida's leader in Iraq, the activities of the death squads are pushing Iraq ever closer to a sectarian civil war.

Mr Pace said the Ministry of the Interior was "acting as a rogue element within the government". It is controlled by the main Shia party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri); the Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, is a former leader of Sciri's Badr Brigade militia, which is one of the main groups accused of carrying out sectarian killings. Another is the Mehdi Army of the young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is part of the Shia coalition seeking to form a government after winning the mid-December election.

Many of the 110,000 policemen and police commandos under the ministry's control are suspected of being former members of the Badr Brigade. Not only counter-insurgency units such as the Wolf Brigade, the Scorpions and the Tigers, but the commandos and even the highway patrol police have been accused of acting as death squads.

The paramilitary commandos, dressed in garish camouflage uniforms and driving around in pick-up trucks, are dreaded in Sunni neighbourhoods. People whom they have openly arrested have frequently been found dead several days later, with their bodies bearing obvious marks of torture.

Mr Pace, a Maltese-Australian who has now retired from his UN post to his home in Sydney, says the constant violence and utter lack of security in Iraq are creating a vicious circle in which ordinary citizens are turning to extremist sectarian groups for protection. Fear of anybody in official uniform inevitably strengthens the militias and the insurgents. In Sunni areas people will look to their own defences, and not to the regular army and police.

But ordinary Sunnis are caught between the death squads and the desire of some of the insurgents on their own side to start a civil war - an aim they are now not far from achieving. The so-called Salafi, Sunni fundamentalists, want not only to eject the Americans but also to build a pure Islamic state. They see Iraqi Shias, even though they are 60 per cent of the population, as heretics allied to the US who should be slaughtered.

Last week's attack on the Golden Mosque is only the latest in a long series of outrages against the Shia community. They started in August 2003 when Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, then leader of Sciri, was killed, along with more than 100 of his followers by a suicide bomber in a vehicle outside the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. There have been repeated massacres of the Shia ever since - some targeting the security forces, such as the attacks on queues of young men trying to join the police or army, but others, such as the slaughter of Shia day labourers waiting for a day's employment, for no other reason than that they are Shia.

Despite extending a 24-hour curfew into a second day yesterday in Baghdad and other major cities, the authorities were unable to prevent further revenge killings and outrages against holy sites. The current cycle of violence, which began with the bombing of the Azkariya shrine in Samarra on Wednesday, has claimed at least 200 lives so far, including those of 47 factory workers pulled from buses and shot on the outskirts of Baghdad.

This was the sort of killing that touched off Lebanon's civil war in 1975. Already an exchange of populations is taking place in Baghdad as members of each community move to districts in which they are in the majority.

The ability of the US occupiers to influence the situation is not only limited, but some of their actions are seen as making things worse. The Americans have been trying to dislodge Mr Jabr as Interior Minister, accusing him of turning his ministry into a Shia bastion. But the Shia believe that the US and its allies, the Kurds, simply want to prevent the majority community from gaining full power over security despite winning two parliamentary elections in 2005.

One important development over the past few days is that it is clearly becoming very difficult to use American or British troops to keep the peace, undermining the argument that they are the only bulwark against civil war. The occupation forces lack the legitimacy to play the role of UN peacekeepers; it is almost impossible to have US soldiers defend a Sunni mosque against a Shia crowd, because if they open fire they will be seen as having joined one side in a sectarian struggle.

In Mr Pace's view, the violence in Iraq is being made worse by the seizing of young Iraqi men by US troops and Iraqi police as they move from city to city carrying out raids. "The vast majority are innocent," he said, "but they very often don't get released for months. You don't eliminate terrorism by what they're doing now. Military intervention causes serious human rights and humanitarian problems to large numbers of innocent civilians ... The result is that such individuals turn into terrorists at the end of their detention."

In such circumstances, family members often contacted UN officials asking for help in getting a young man outside of the country and away from the influence of insurgents they had met in jail. They were among many Iraqi citizens fleeing the country as a result of the violence. "Those with money go to Jordan. The poor go to Syria," he said.

Mr Pace, who first made his comments to The Times of Malta newspaper, said the situation in Iraq had "definitely, definitely" got worse over the two years in which he headed the UN human rights team. The interim government and the international community were trying to restart the country's crippled economy, but, he said, they would not succeed "until people are secure".


Armed wing of the most powerful Shia party. Many police and paramilitaries 'still wear Badr T-shirts under their uniform,' a US general said.

Loyal to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Apart from open clashes with Sunnis, its members in the police are accused of death squad killings.

Followers of Hussein al-Sadr, Moqtada relative. Among forces set up to guard Shia shrines, but having more sinister links.


Feared by Sunnis, despite having had some Sunni commanders.


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