July 16, 2006

A Road Diverted...

Another one from the "the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad" department, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune:

In the mosques and streets of Iraq, all the talk Friday was of war, but for a change it was someone else's.

In a country that only a few days ago seemed to be spiraling out of control toward civil war, where whole neighborhoods were engulfed in ugly sectarian battles, the escalating war between Lebanon and Israel dominated talk in Friday prayers, on the streets and in newscasts.

"Dozens of innocent men, women and children are being killed for a couple of military men while they can be freed through negotiations," Sheik Abdul-Mehdi Karbalai told worshipers in the Shiite city of Karbala, condemning the "destruction, killing and horror" of the "Zionist war machine."

The violence and chaos here hasn't stopped. On Friday, 11 Iraqi soldiers were killed at a checkpoint, two mosques were bombed and at least three people were beheaded. And on Saturday, heavy clashes between Iraqi soldiers and gunmen in downtown Baghdad left 11 people wounded, police told The Associated Press.

Yet Friday prayer sermons--many by preachers allied with the U.S.-backed government--were not aimed at rival sects, lawless militiamen, ineffective politicians or even U.S. forces.

They were aimed almost exclusively at Israel, which has sealed off the Lebanese capital of Beirut by bombing the airport and road to Damascus, Syria, as well as blockading the maritime exits from the country.

Other Muslim countries condemned the Israelis as well, but none did so amid the kind of chaos and violence that engulfs Iraq. It was as if Iraq's religious leaders used the Lebanese crisis as a way of diverting attention from the country's own problems, which have left hundreds dead in just the past week.

Nowhere was it more obvious than with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who has been under fire himself in recent days because he oversees the Mahdi Army militia, which was accused of killing dozens of Sunni Muslims at point-blank range last Sunday.

Sadr set the tone for Friday prayer services throughout the country by issuing a morning statement condemning both Israel and the United States.

"The eyes shed tears and the hearts ache as we see our dear people in Lebanon suffer from what the Zionist terrorist does with the aid from America, the enemy of the people," he said. "Let everyone know that we in Iraq are not going to remain with our hands folded against this Zionist march."

In Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City neighborhood, the Friday preacher read Sadr's statement, then went on to liken the American invasion of Iraq to the Israeli attack on Lebanon.

I think the chances of a renewed Shi'a insurgency against US forces in Iraq is growing rather significantly, given the chaos escalating through the region. We really need to keep our eyes on that, and in a razor-effing sharp kinda way. Hopefully we are.

Posted by Gregory at July 16, 2006 03:03 PM

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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