Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ashura Bombings in Iraq - and Afghanistan

The last couple of days in Iraq - and in Shia communities across the Middle East - have been marked by the commemorative activities of Ashura, which remembers the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali (grandson of the prophet Muhammad) and his small band of followers at the Battle of Karbala in 680, a pivotal date in the process whereby Shiism distinguished an identity separate from that of the majority Sunni.

But in Iraq, Ashura has brought this year - as in every year since the US invasion in 2003 - numerous bombings by Sunni extremists who set off bombs that maim and kill dozens of the hundreds of thousands of innocent Shia pilgrims who process to Karbala and other Shia shrine-cities in Iraq.

(And also reported today: Ashura bombings in Kabul and Mazar-i-sharif in Afghanistan that have also killed dozens of Shia there.)

The NYT's report of one of the latest bombings notes that one bomb exploded very near a mosque in Babil province associated with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered and followed marja-i-taqlid ("source of emulation" - i.e., spiritual guide) among the world's Shia today - and perhaps the single most politically influential figure on what one might call Iraq's Shiite "street."  It was his ability to bring millions of Shia onto the street in protest that forced the US to agree to elections to determine a new Iraqi government.

I shudder to imagine the horrors that even an attempted assassination of Sistani might bring to Iraq.  Remember, the Sunni-Shia civil war that consumed so many thousands of lives in Iraq from 2006 on was kicked off by Sunni extremists bombing another of Iraq's great Shia shrines, the golden-domed al-Askari shrine in Samarra (where the mosque's rebuilding stirs Sunni-Shia antagonisms).

As the deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq looms ever closer (even as withdrawals from Afghanistan are announced), it's certain that Iraq remains a very "unfinished" situation - but that it is not in the power of the US to "finish" or "fix" Iraq.  It never was. Bush was warned in 2002, and he ought to have known better.

Historians will hold him - and the Dick Cheneys and Condi Rices of the time - to account - but the great American people have moved on to whatever new shiny baubles the 24-hour news cycle serially dangles before their eyes.  

And, we can be sure, within months after the last US soldier is out of Iraq, as bombings and assassinations continue, and the ineffectual Iraqi parliament dithers and stalls, oh-so-many still clueless Americans will be scratching their heads, incredulous, wondering: "Gosh, we liberated those people. Why can't those Eye-rack-ee's just get along?"

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