Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who & Why - A Second Bombing At The Samarra Mosque

The downward spiral of sectarian violence in Iraq began in February 2006 with an al Qaeda in Iraq bombing of the Samarra Mosque, one of the holiest of Shiite shrines. It had long been the stated goal of al Qaeda to fan the flames of civil war, and with that bombing, they came close to succeeding. Repair work on the Mosque was planned, but never started.

In the aftermath of the February 2006 bombing, and as part of the Iraqi security plan, the mission to guard the Mosque was charged to an Iraqi Police Battalion. Nonetheless, this morning, two explosions at the base of the mosque brought down two of the minarets still standing from the original blast. Who did this and why did they do it are two questions with several possible answers. This from the Washington Post:

Early morning blasts Wednesday destroyed two minarets at the same Shiite shrine in Samarra where an attack last year demolished the mosque's gilded dome and plunged the country into a wave of deadly sectarian violence.

The 9 a.m. explosions at the revered Askariya shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, is the sort of event that could spark a spiral of retaliatory bloodshed. . . .

The Feb. 22, 2006 attack on the shrine -- often referred to as the Golden Mosque because of its brilliant golden dome -- was a seminal moment in the four-year Iraq war, sparking a vicious cycle of bloodshed that has never fully stopped. In the 16 months since, thousands of Iraqis -- and perhaps tens of thousands -- have been killed in Sunni-Shiite fighting.

. . . Fearing a backlash from the latest attack, the Iraqi government imposed an indefinite curfew across Baghdad starting 3 p.m. Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of retaliatory violence, and no reports that anyone was injured in the attack at the shrine.

"This is a terrorist attack that is aimed at inciting sectarian crisis, and it is the work of a foreign agenda whose aim is to stoke sectarian strife, instability and a collapse of the political process," said Hussein Al Musawi, spokesman for the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group of Shiite political parties.

"There is an obvious failure on the part of the Iraqi security forces, and the multinationals, to guard these shrines and to deal the terrorists groups a blow, and to strike with an iron fist against the terrorists."

. . . In response to Wednesday's attack, the entire Iraqi security force responsible for guarding the mosque, the 3rd Battalion of the Salahaddin Province police, was detained for investigation, Iraqi law enforcement officials said. The collapse of the two minarets appeared to have been caused by explosive charges placed at their bases.

. . . After Wednesday's explosions, Iraqi security forces patrolled the city, firing in the air and announcing the curfew from loudspeakers mounted on jeeps. In Baghdad and elsewhere, Shiite mosques broadcast calls for demonstrations.

In a sign of the sectarian tensions quickly provoked by the incident, members of the Iraqi security forces, which are dominated by Shiites, yelled threats at Samarra residents, blaming them for the destruction of the mosque and threatening revenge. Some citizens, meanwhile, hurled remarks back, asking how anyone could destroy the minarets when the entire religious complex was being so carefully guarded by Iraqi security forces.

The mosque, one of the four most revered in Iraq, has been heavily guarded by Iraqi troops ever since the destruction of its gilded dome in the 2006 attack.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for peaceful demonstrations and reconciliation within Iraq's warring factions to mark the minarets' destruction. In a written statement, Sadr said Sunnis and Shiites should unite and declared that no Sunni Arab could have been responsible for the attack on the Shiite shrine.

He claimed that U.S. occupation forces bore responsibility for the blasts, though the precise nature of that alleged responsibility was not made clear.

"We declare a three-day mourning period . . . and shout Allahu Akbar (God is greater) from Sunni and Shiite mosques," Sadr said in the statement.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said that U.S. forces were assisting the Iraqi government in responding to the attack and had provided a team to help assess the damage. Although there were U.S. troops in the region, he said, "The security for the shrine itself is an Iraqi responsibility." . . .
Read the entire storyhere. There are two possible motivations for this bombing.

The first is to reignite sectarian violence and to undo the significant gains made by the surge. Although it is clear that al Qaeda in Iraq carried out the initial attack, it is far less clear who carried out this second attack. Al Qaeda in Iraq, Moqtada al Sadr, Iran and Congressional Democrats all have a vested interest in seeing the surge fail, and it would not be beyond at least the first three to have conducted this bombing. Given that the battalion guarding the mosque is made up of Shiites, it seems likely either Sadr's militia or an Iranian proxy carried out this attack.

The second possible motivation is a false flag operation by Sadr to use the bombing as a means of establishing his bona fides as a national political figure looking out for the interests of Sunni and Shia alike. Given his quick response to the bombing and his calls for peace, this is plausible. If so, it would mark Sadr as having far more intelligence and nuance then I believe he actually possesses. That, or this could have been planned on his behalf for that purpose by his Iranian handlers if, as seems likely, Sadr is a tool of the Khomeinists at this point.

In either event, it just does not seem likely that, in the absence of vociferous rhetoric played out across Iraqi air waves, that this second attack against the still unrepaired Samarra mosque will draw anywhere near the same ire of the nation as was caused by the first attack. It bears watching carefully who attempts to capitalize on this bombing, how they do it and to what end. That may go a long way to telling us who are the true culprits.

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