Responses to the Bombing of the Askariya Shrine

February 25th, 2006 - by admin

The Iraq Freedom Congress & The Progress Report – 2006-02-25 10:40:43

We received this statement relayed through an e-mail message from Amjad Al-Jawhary of the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions of Iraq. The translation has been subsequently edited by Sid Shniad. The message comes through loud and clear and deserves wide circulation.

No to Deepening the Sectarian Hatred Policy…
Let’s Stand against the Sectarian War
Iraq Freedom Congress Statement

BAGHDAD (February 22, 2006) — An armed sectarian group has bombed one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam in Iraq, sparking furious protests. Another, similar group in Baghdad attacked at least five Sunni mosques and burned many vehicles belonging to the ministry of interior in reprisal raids, with disturbances reported in other cities.

Following these incidents, a climate of fear and tension has dominated the country, drawing worries in the faces of the people who are afraid of a war of retaliation erupting between Shiite and Sunni followers.

The carnage in Iraq today, caused by sectarian gangs, follows from the occupation policies that created and imposed ethnic and sectarian division on the Iraqi people through a governing council and a sectarian constitution, ending up with the current appointed government.

Imposing the sectarian policy of division, killing people based on their religious and ethnic identities, and attacking their mosques and churches are all part of the sectarian gangs’ strategy to create a situation in which they will be able to dictate the country’s laws and exercise uncontrolled power. The strategy of spreading anarchy and destabilizing the current fragile situation is designed to ignite civil war. And the occupying troops are the main reason standing behind these situations.

Iraqi People…

The Iraq Freedom Congress condemns the attack on the holy places of any sect or religion. It warns Iraqis not to be drawn into the sectarian conflict. Such conflict is not in the interest of the people. Innocents will pay a heavy price, serving the sectarian gangs’ goals. The Iraq Freedom Congress believes that prosperity, safety and freedom will not prevail unless the occupation is ended and a non-ethnic, non-religious state is established.

The Iraq Freedom Congress calls on the Iraqi people to join its ranks, bare its flags, and declare… Not Shiite Identity… Not Sunni Identity … ours is the Human Identity.

IRAQ: A Poisonous Mix
Judd Legum, Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel and Payson Schwin / The Progress Report

Two months after parliamentary elections that split largely along ethnic lines, Iraq still has no government and sectarian violence threatens to foment existing tensions and throw the country into a full-blown civil war. Since insurgents bombed one of Iraq’s holiest Shiite sites yesterday — destroying the “gleaming dome of the 1,200-year-old Askariya shrine” — 90 Sunni mosques have been attacked and at least 50 people, including three Sunni clerics, have been killed.

“This could be a tipping point,” says Juan Cole, a historian of Islam at the University of Michigan and author of the blog Informed Comment. Although Bush continues to insist that Iraq’s political progress is “amazing” and State Department officials downplay the violence, the White House still has no plan to reduce sectarian tensions.

The New York Times recently reported, “Of all of the changes that have swept Iraqi society since the American invasion almost three years ago, one of the quieter ones, yet also one of the most profound, has been the increased identification with one’s own sect. In the poisonous new mix of violence, sectarian politics and lawlessness, families are turning inward to protect themselves.” By invading Iraq without a plan for stability, President Bush has created a new haven for international terrorists and brought the country to the brink of a full-blown sectarian civil war.

‘A Shite 9/11’
Over the centuries, the holy Askariya shrine in Samarra has attracted millions of Shiite pilgrims. “This [attack was] something greater and more symbolic than attacks on people. This [was] a strike at who we are,” said Abu Hassan, a Shiite street peddler. Other Iraqi citizens said they feared that this attack could be “seminal moment in Iraq ‘s low-intensity civil war” and Abdel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite and one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, said, “This is as 9/11 in the United States.”

While Shiite leaders generally called for restraint and mourning, they also made clear that their patience is growing thin. In a rare move, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most respected cleric, called for public protests and hinted that religious militias may be given a bigger role if government forces are unable to provide security, “an ominous sign of the Shiite reaction ahead.” Meanwhile, Sunnis prepared for more violence, stocking up on food and staying at home. The Sunni political leader Tareq al-Hashimi of the Iraqi Islamic Party said, “We will pursue anyone who attacks Sunnis.”

The Samarra attack set back already-strained efforts to form an Iraqi unity government, leaving a lame duck government in place. Iraq’s main Sunni bloc has suspended talks with Kurdish and Shiite politicians, demanding an apology for the recent attacks on Sunni mosques.

The New Powerbrokers
U.S. opposition to Iran and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has had the side effect of empowering them with the Iraqi people. “Iran appears to be the greatest beneficiary of the U.S.-led invasion.

Tehran no longer has an archenemy on its frontier, and the war has led to a recrudescence of fellow Shiites throughout the region,” notes UCLA Professor Steven L. Spiegel. The LA Times writes that Iran, who is blaming the attack on America and Israel, is now “pushed it to the apex of power in the region.” Sadr has emerged as Iraq’s kingmaker, having recently visited Iran and pledged to fight with the country if the United States attacked.

The radical cleric has also met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Syria, increasing the power he earned by opposing the United States. The Askariya shrine holds the tombs of two revered imams, including Hassan al-Askari, father of the “hidden imam,” al-Madhi, the namesake of Sadr’s Madhi army.

Many Shiites believe Madhi is still alive and “his reemergence will signal the beginning of the end of the world,” “so this will be interpreted as an attack on the imam al-Mahdi, an attack on their guy; so for the Sadr people it’s an apocalyptic moment,” said Cole. “There will be reprisals.” Conversely, people the United States has promoted, such as Ahmed Chalabi, have been rejected by the Iraqi people.

Increased Threat to US
No one has taken responsibility for yesterday’s bombing. But Sadr and the influential Sunni cleric Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi have joined with Iran in blaming America. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has enraged Iraqis recently with his forceful statements that the United States will cut off aid to Iraq if it forms a sectarian government: “[W]e are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian.”

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the cleric who leads one of the country’s two most powerful Shiite parties, blames Khalilzad for the Samarra attack because his “statements created more pressure and gave a green light to terrorist groups.” Khalilzad’s demands have also angered Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who said, “When someone asks us whether we want a sectarian government the answer is ‘no we do not want a sectarian government’ — not because the U.S. ambassador says so or issues a warning.”

Bush Still Lacks a Plan
Bush continues to ignore the warnings of his own generals, including Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a key strategist in the U.S. Central Command covering the Middle East, who recently admitted that the American troop presence is a “contributory factor” to the instability in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. John Vines has voiced “concerns that sectarian rivalries and incompetence could cripple major ministries and turn newly American-trained Iraqi security forces into militias for hire.” 57 percent of the American public now disapprove of the way Bush is handling the Iraq war and are looking for an alternative. American Progress has some answers.

Under the Radar — The Progress Report


“This week I killed a story about the battle against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) after a senior military officer told me it contained information that would be helpful to the enemy,” CBS Pentagon correspondent David Martin said this week on the network’s weblog Public Eye. (Recent news reports have found that red tape at the Defense Department had slowed efforts to get the top anti-IED technology to soldiers in the field.)

Martin acknowledged that he “didn’t find his argument about how it would help the enemy very persuasive,” and admitted further, “I’ve done that a number of times over the years, and each time it’s turned out that going with the story wouldn’t have caused any harm.” Nevertheless, some conservatives applauded his decision. The National Review’s media columnist wrote, “That couldn’t have been easy, but good for him.”