Thursday, February 23, 2006

Iraq Descending Into Chaos

This is truly getting scarier and scarier.

The Associated Press has unconfirmed reports that 168 mosques have been attacked and 10 imams killed in reprisal for yesterday's terrorist attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra, also known as the "Golden Mosque," one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites.

The AP also reports that "a major Sunni Arab bloc suspended talks with Kurdish and Shiite parties on a new government after scores of Sunni mosques were attacked and dozens of bodies found" after yesterday's attack on the Golden Mosque.

The government has extended a curfew in Baghdad and Salaheddin province for two days to try to stem the violence.

Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his militia to protect Shiite holy sites around Iraq. :

"If the government had real sovereignty, then nothing like this would have happened," al-Sadr said a statement. "Brothers in the Mahdi Army must protect all Shiite shrines and mosques, especially in Samarra."

In a similar move, the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

hinted, as did Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, that religious militias could be given a bigger security role if the government cannot protect holy shrines - an ominous sign of the Shiite reaction ahead.

The AP tallies up the carnage:

At least 46 bodies were found scattered across Iraq late Wednesday and early Thursday, many of them shot execution-style and dumped in Shiite-dominated parts of the capital, Baghdad.

They included a prominent Al-Arabiya TV female correspondent and two other Iraqi journalists, who had been covering Wednesday's explosion in Samarra. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found on the outskirts of the mostly Sunni Arab city 60 miles north of Baghdad.

In mostly Shiite Basra, police said militiamen broke into a prison, hauled out 12 inmates, including two Egyptians, two Tunisians, a Libyan, a Saudi and a Turk, and shot them dead in reprisal for the shrine attack. They had been held in Basra after trying to leave the country following the 2004 U.S. attack on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

While we here in America worry about Bush's sweetheart ports deal with his oil buddies in the United Arab Emirates, we might just be missing the real story out of the Middle East today - Iraq's descent into chaos.

UPDATE: The NY Times reports at least 95 people have been killed in the 24 hours following Wednesday's bombing of the Golden Mosque:

Of the 95 bodies discovered since the bombing, 48 were in Baghdad, believed to be Sunnis living in or near Shiite enclaves, the interior ministry official said. The other 47 were found in a farming area south of Baghdad called Nahrawan, where Shiite militiamen and Sunni fighters clashed last fall in a battle that left dozens dead.

The shrine bombing came as Iraq's political leaders continued to struggle under heavy American pressure to agree on the principles of a new national unity government. As in past moments of political transition here, violence has mounted during the uncertainty, and the attacks, mostly against Shiite civilians, seemed aimed specifically at creating more conflict between Iraq's Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab populations. That effort had at least a momentary success on Wednesday, and the streets of the capital emptied as Iraqis hurried home early, fearing further attacks by Shiite militia members or possible reprisals by Sunni Arabs.

But hey, Iraqis are certainly better off than when Saddam was in power, right?

I mean, sure, the country is descending into civil war, the sectarian violence is horrifying, Shiite death squads have taken over the execution job from Saddam's thugs while Sunni terrorists and jihadis continue to target innocent Shiites in terrorist attacks, and the economy has fallen into disrepair as a result of all the terrorism and sectarian discord, but at least Iraqis are free.

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