Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, April 20, 2006

  Mosques as fiefdoms

When was the last day that the news out of Iraq sounded better than the previous day's news? While you're thinking, I'll post this link to an article by Jonathan Steele in tomorrow's GuardianBaghdad mosques become vigilante forts as sectarianism divides suburbs.

It's the kind of thoroughly discouraging report we regularly get, for example, from Knight Ridder's correspondent Tom Lasseter (why didn't he get a Pulitzer, anyhow?), and it runs almost directly counter to the sunny reports that the Bush administration, in its last throes, doles out. Clearly journalists such as Lasseter have the goods, and Bush & Co. don't, so this report by Steele sounds entirely credible to me.

In the wave of sectarian violence that has hit Iraq since the destruction of one of the country's holiest shrines in February, many mosques around Baghdad have become training grounds and weapons stores as much as places of prayer.

More significantly, they are now seen as the preserve of a single sect - the meeting place and bastion of one or other beleaguered community. The al-Nour mosque in Baghdad's western suburb of al-Jihad used to have both Shia and Sunni worshippers. "Only one Shia comes to the mosque now," said Adnan, a young guard who did not want to give his real name. He and other Sunnis are on watch each night to defend the mosque....

As Baghdad splits up into no-go areas for the Iraqi police, the danger is that the groundwork is being laid for a civil war in the city. If sectarian violence increased, the separate mosque defenders could start coordinating, turning the city into a jigsaw of no-go areas, like Beirut in the 1980s. They could also make common cause with the insurgents and turn against the Americans.

"This is our biggest problem, the militias and the untrustworthiness of the official security forces. It could easily turn into fiefdoms, each area with its own militia," warned Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni who serves as interim speaker of the new parliament.

Sectarian militias combining with erstwhile opponents to turn against American troops? By some kind of coincidence, that is rather close to a prediction that Tom Lasseter himself recorded last October in this report.

Some Iraqi troops went a step further, saying they were only awaiting word from the marja'iya before turning on American forces. Although many Shiites are grateful for the overthrow of Saddam, they also are suspicious of U.S. motives....

"In Amariyah last week, a car bomb hit a U.S. Humvee and their soldiers began to shoot randomly. They killed a lot of innocent civilians. I was there; I saw it," said Sgt. Fadhal Yahan. "This happens all the time. If they keep doing this, the people will attack them. And we are part of the people."

Sgt. Jawad Majid chimed in: "We have our marja'iya and we are waiting for them to decide when the time to fight (the Americans) is, when it is no longer time to be silent.

The occupation of Iraq, never an easy operation, just keeps getting nastier.


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