Thursday, February 23, 2006

TOWARDS CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ?

Bad news from Iraq. According to Iraq the Model:
Today is a day off in Iraq, emergency situation now officially declared with extended curfews 8pm-6am.

Sistani has been calling for restraint and calm but it seems that some Shia factions are not listening to him but instead they are listening to their direct references or acting on their own.

Spokesmen of the Islamic Party and Muslim Scholars claim more than 120 mosques have been blown up, set ablaze or came under small arms and RPG fire including the Um al-Qura mosque which is the HQ of the Association of Muslim Scholars which came under several drive-by shootings.

Radio Sawa reported a short while ago that the central morgue in Baghdad received some 80 bodies of people who were killed with gun shots since Wednesday afternoon.

In our neighborhood the Sadr militias seized the local mosque and broadcast Shia religious mourning songs from the mosques loudspeakers.
In several other cases, worshippers were turned away by "gunmen in black" who surrounded the closed mosques. Other mosques are encircled by razor-wire to stop anyone from approaching them.
If the aim of those responsible for bombing the Samarra Shrine was to edge the country closer to civil war, it appears to be working.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, summoned political leaders to a meeting Thursday. But the biggest Sunni faction in the new parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, refused to attend, citing the attacks on Sunni mosques.

"We want a clear condemnation from the government which didn't do enough yesterday to curb those angry mobs," said Dr. Salman al-Jumaili, a member of the Front. "There was even a kind of cooperation with the government security forces in some places in attacking the Sunni mosques."
A couple of days of curfew ought to restore some semblance of order but the situation remains extremely volatile and it seems that the neither Shia nor Sunni extremists are paying an awful lot of attention to Sistani's pleas for calm.

Of course, there are those who have already started blaming You-Know-Who for the destruction of the Samarra shrine. From Al Jazeera (Hat-tip, Harry's Place):
Ahmadinejad: "They invade the shrine and bomb there because they oppose God and justice. These passive activities are the acts of a group of defeated Zionists and occupiers who intended to hit our emotions."

al-Qawadari: "We cannot imagine that the Iraqi Sunnis did this. No one benefits from such acts other than the US occupation and the lurking Zionist enemy."
And extremists hell-bent on bringing about a civil war, but far easier to blame America and Israel, eh?

Even before these latest attacks, in another of his fascinating dispatches from the Middle East earlier this week, Michael Totten reported on Kurdish dreams of seceding from Iraq:
ERBIL, IRAQ.

Iraq may not survive in one piece. The overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurds are packing their bags. Most have already said goodbye. Erbil (Hawler in Kurdish) is the capital of the de-facto sovereign Kurdistan Regional Government. Baghdad is thought of as the capital of a deranged foreign country.

In January 2005 the Iraqi Kurds held an informal referendum. More than 80 percent turned out to vote. 98.7 percent of those voted to secede from Iraq. Not only have the Kurds long dreamed of independence, when they look south they see only Islamism, Baathism, blood, fire, and mayhem.

If Middle Easterners had drawn the borders themselves, Iraq wouldn’t even exist. Blame the British for shackling Kurds and Arabs together when they created the new post-imperial and post-Ottoman map. The Kurds do. They call the W.C. (the “water closet,” i.e. the toilet) “Winston Churchill.” Several times when my translator needed a bathroom break he said “I need to use the Winston Churchill.”

Arab Iraqis who want to “keep” Kurdistan ought to thank the heavens for Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s new president and the party chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. He belongs to the 1.3 percent of Iraqi Kurds who want to stay connected to Baghdad. The Kurds love Talabani, whom they affectionately call “Mam Jalal” (Uncle Jalal), for leading the militarily successful fight against Saddam Hussein.
A fine piece that also examines the ways in which the Kurds propose to counter Saddam's "Arabisation" of their homeland.

(Aside: If you've not come across the Yezidis before, Totten's "The Beginning of the Universe" essay is a must read)


UPDATE (24-02-06)

As predicted, the curfew appears to be working, in the short-term at least:
Anthony Loyd, Times correspondent in Baghdad, says that a day-time curfew kept a lid on the violence in Iraq today but the future is far from clear and civil war is a very real possibility:

"Things are much quieter in Baghdad today because of the curfew, that's been extended to 4pm. The security forces are more visible on the streets and beyond isolated incidents I've not heard of significant violence in the city so far.

"It's selective, not a 100 per cent curfew. In some areas like Sadr City, the Shia area northeast of Baghdad, people have been out in the streets and attending Friday prayers. Sunni areas appear to be in a state of lock-down though. The curfew is principally designed to keep the various neighbourhoods separated.

"So, it's calmer and I think everyone has stepped back a bit as they consider the next move. They're wondering what is to be gained from more violence or even from civil war.
Other than bringing the extremists out into full view, probably not much.

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