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August 31, 2003

Iraq: more violence

It seems that things get worse in Iraq. A senior Islamist cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, has been targeted with a car bomb just outside Shiite Islam's holiest shrine. The shrine--the Tomb of Ali--- was only partly damaged, but Bakir Hakim is dead.

Hakim, 64, a member of one of Iraq's most prominent clerical families, headed the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an opposition group he founded in 1982 while exiled in Iran. Though he stood for an Islamic state in Iraq, and was supported by Shia fundamentalists sympathetic with Iran, he cooperated with the Americans and allowed his brother to go onto the Governing Council.

Who did it and what is the significance?

Opinions differ on the former. River's comments on the Najaf bombing can be found here at Baghdad Burning. She thinks it could be dissidents within his own movement ---- rival Shi'ite factions opposed to Hakim's moderate stance could be to blame. This article (link courtesy of Shi'a Pundit) explores the divisions between the Shiite groups. Let us call them moderates and radicals (fundamentalists).

Salem Pax, whose house was raided by the Americans searching for terrorist cells, downplays the nasty side of Hakim's Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Salem says they were moderates playing by the rules. He draws attention to the more dangerous anti-American Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been getting his own militia together. His radical Shiite fundamentalism holds that women should not even go to shops and their and their 'moral police' have been behind the bombing of shops selling alcohol and behind the threats to cinema owners.

Christopher Allbritton over at Back in Iraq reckons the Najaf bombing could be the work of Al Qaida operatives, who are Sunni, did they did this in a bid to spark a civil war. Juan Cole over at Informed Comment thinks it was Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein. He says:

"The Najaf bombing looks an awful lot like the bombing of the Jordanian embassy and the bombing of the UN headquarters. I now think all three are the work of Saddam loyalists, not of Sunni radicals with al-Qaeda links. All three targeted key de facto allies of the US, and have resulted in isolating it further. The Red Cross, Oxfam, and other aid agencies have much reduced their operations after the bombing of the UN headquarters, and IMF and World Bank officials have left, postponing important economic measures. Major Shiite clerics other than al-Hakim and his brother Abdul Aziz have refused direct contact with the Americans, and this reluctance is likely to have just been reinforced."

The identity of the bombers is still up in the air.

That leaves us with the significance of the Najaf bombing. Despite the claims of Bremer that Iraq is not a country in chaos and Baghdad is not a city in chaos, the situation does not look good for the US. As Christopher Allbritton observes, the Najaf car bomb attack has the political aim aims to show the Arab world that American troops arent up to providing security and can be put on the defensive. It means America will likely remain pretty much on its own in Iraq.

You can see this isolation in terms of rebuilding Iraq. As River describes the rebuilding, the Bremer administration is bringing in thousands of foreign companies that are going to want billions of dollars. She asks:

"...why arent the Iraqi engineers, electricians and laborers being taken advantage of? Thousands of people who have no work would love to be able to rebuild Iraq no one is being given a chance.
The reconstruction of Iraq is held above our heads like a promise and a threat. People roll their eyes at reconstruction.... a few already rich contractors are going to get richer, Iraqi workers are going to be given a pittance and the unemployed Iraqi public can stand on the sidelines and look at the glamorous buildings being built by foreign companies."

The significance of the isolation is that Iraq is becoming a lawless country. The Americans are now protecting themselves rather than the Iraqi people, and the police they have created cannot do the law and order job.

The other area of significiance of the Najaf car bombing relates to theUS continuing the old British doctrine of Sunni favoritism by insisting that the Shi'a religious leaders would never be allowed to come to power. The implication is not only the point made by Tacitus, that the Shi'a-on-Shi'a factional war is on, and it's going to be messy. An article listed on Al-Muhajabah's Islamic Blogs The Clipboard concurs. Entitled, 'Civil war brewing' it says that Shi'a fury will be directed at the Sunnis to the north and toward the United States as the occupying force. It is what the Tehran Times does.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at August 31, 2003 11:30 AM

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