March 02, 2004

Shi'a Shrine Bombings

Yesterday we bloggers were writing up some good news from Iraq--today the news is very bad.

In apparently coordinated attacks, while many thousands of Shi'a worshipers were in the streets of Karbala and Baghdad for the climax of the Shiite Ashura festival (being celebrated for the first time in decades), what appears to be a combination of suicide bombs and mortar shells felled perhaps over a hundred Iraqi (and perhaps some Iranian) Shi'a.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. The strategy was outlined in Jordanian-born terrorist Zarqawi's memo about a month ago.

It's worth quoting at some length--and noting (as I've stressed in the past) that some al-Qaeda fanatics appear to detest Shi'a Muslims (as cowardly fifth columnists) more than even the dreaded Zionists and Christian infidel interlopers.

Consider this part of Zarqawi's memo:

"The American army has begun to disappear from some cities, and its presence is rare. An Iraqi army has begun to take its place, and this is the real problem that we face, since our combat against the Americans is something easy. The enemy is apparent, his back is exposed, and he does not know the land or the current situation of the mujahidin because his intelligence information is weak. We know for certain that these Crusader forces will disappear tomorrow or the day after. He who looks at the current situation [will] see the enemy?s haste to constitute the army and the police, which have begun to carry out the missions assigned to them. This enemy, made up of the Shi`a filled out with Sunni agents, is the real danger that we face, for it is [made up of] our fellow countrymen, who know us inside and out. They are more cunning than their Crusader masters, and they have begun, as I have said, to try to take control of the security situation in Iraq. They have liquidated many Sunnis and many of their Ba`th Party enemies and others beholden to the Sunnis in an organized, studied way. They began by killing many mujahid brothers, passing to the liquidation of scientists, thinkers, doctors, engineers, and others. I believe, and God knows best, that the worst will not come to pass until most of the American army is in the rear lines and the secret Shi`i army and its military brigades are fighting as its proxy. They are infiltrating like snakes to reign over the army and police apparatus, which is the strike force and iron fist in our Third World, and to take complete control over the economy like their tutors the Jews. As the days pass, their hopes are growing that they will establish a Shi`i state stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and ending in the Cardboard Kingdom of the Gulf. The Badr Brigade entered carrying the slogan of revenge against Tikrit and al-Anbar, but it shed its garb and then put on the emblem[s] of the army and police to oppress the Sunnis and kill the people of Islam in the name of law and order, all under cover of smooth talk. The noxiousness of falsehood rides the horse of dissimulation. Their Ghunusi religion (one based on special personal enlightenment) veils itself with lies and covers itself with hypocrisy, exploiting the naivete and good-heartedness of many Sunnis. We do not know when our [Islamic] nation will begin to learn from historical experience and build on the testimony of the empty eras. The Shi`i Safavid state was an insurmountable obstacle in the path of Islam. Indeed it was a dagger that stabbed Islam and its people in the back. One of the Orientalists spoke truth when he said that had the Safavid state not existed we in Europe would today be reading the Qur?an just as the Algerian Berber does. Yes, the hosts of the Ottoman state stopped at the gates of Vienna, and those fortifications almost collapsed before them [to permit] Islam to spread under the auspices of the sword of glory and jihad all across Europe. But these armies were forced to return and withdraw to the rear because the army of the Safavid state had occupied Baghdad, demolished its mosques, killed its people, and captured its women and wealth. The armies returned to defend the sanctuaries and people of Islam. Fierce fighting raged for about two centuries and did not end until the strength and reach of the Islamic state had waned and the [Islamic] nation had been put to sleep, then to wake up to the drums of the invading Westerner."

More:

"These in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in [their] religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies ? and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these Sabeans. Despite their weakness and fragmentation, the Sunnis are the sharpest blades, the most determined, and the most loyal when they meet those Batinis (Shi`a), who are a people of treachery and cowardice. They are arrogant only with the weak and can attack only the broken-winged. Most of the Sunnis are aware of the danger of these people, watch their sides, and fear the consequences of empowering them. Were it not for the enfeebled Sufi shaykhs and [Muslim] Brothers, people would have told a different tale.

This matter, with the anticipated awaking of the slumberer and rousing of the sleeper, also includes neutralizing these [Shi`a] people and pulling out their teeth before the inevitable battle, along with the anticipated incitement of the wrath of the people against the Americans, who brought destruction and were the reason for this miasma. The people must beware of licking the honeycomb and enjoying some of the pleasures from which they were previously deprived, lest they surrender to meekness, stay on the[ir] land, prefer safety,, and turn away from the rattle of swords and the neighing of horses." [my emphasis throughout]

Ignore all the bad prose about the "neighing of horses" and such. Focus instead on the nefarious strategy.

The blueprint of these fanatic al-Qaeda operatives (and doubtless some criminals, Baathist remnants and radicalized Sunnis helping them) is now most assuredely to try to stoke a civil war in Iraq.

They likely, given that American forces are withdrawing more from the cities, know they can't kill enough Americans to force Bush out (he's not Clinton).

So they are shifting tactics. And they've gone fully operational today.

The objective?

The specter of inefficacious Iraqi police forces being killed in good number once U.S. troops "retreat" to their bases.

Of diminishing U.S. led counter-insurgency operations replaced by American forces being forced to separate ethnic groups who have fallen into the morass of inter-communal violence by such terror attacks.

Put differently, the objective is a quasi-anarchic environment in Iraq marked by little to no order--perfect conditions for groups like al-Qaeda.

And, consequently, a resounding humiliation and defeat of the United States in the heart of the region that will represent our key foreign policy challenges for decades to come.

The Blame Game

You know, it's easy to beat up on our coalition commanders.

How could this have happened, frustrated onlookers will wonder?

We all knew these Shi'a rituals were going to occur. I mean, the Zarqawi memo telegraphed the al-Qaeda and affiliates strategy.

But even news outlets like the Beeb, on their A.M. broadcasts, stated that the coalition had stepped up security.

There were many checkpoints on the road to Karbala. Reports indicate that individual's cars were being checked.

Nor do you want G.I.s from Idaho camped out in the sensitive shrines themselves, do you? So, as has been occurring more often these days, most security duties were handed over to Iraqi forces.

But, as the Beeb correspondent pointed out, the sheer mass of people moving about makes such security operations far from fail-proof. And, of course, there is no way to ensure fail-proof security anywhere in the world--and certainly not in an Iraq still wracked by violence.

Still, one must be dismayed by how poor, almost a year out now since U.S. troops entered Iraq, the security situation remains and how vulnerable people there (these days less our soldiers, but rather Iraqi civilians) remain to suicide bombs or mortar attacks.

The Stakes

This is all so very critical. People will always prefer order to anarchy. Put differently, authoritarian order is considered preferable to the law of the jungle. I'm certainly not saying there is Saddam nostalgia sweeping the land. Not at all.

But I am saying that Americans, as unfair as it may seem, will be held culpable by many Shi'a (as those who should be the custodians of order given that they occupy the country) for today's carnage.

And, to say the least, that's not winning us any friends in places like Najaf and Sadr City.

So we must do a better job of establishing secure conditions in Iraq. This is paramount. We face a persistent enemy who will do everything in their power to scuttle U.S. efforts to create secure conditions.

Robust counter-insurgency efforts and better training of Iraqi military police must be uppermost on policymaker's agendas. The Iraqi forces simply aren't ready for prime time.

A rush to Iraqify, with U.S. troops hunkered down in bases, might have these very same U.S. forces having to emerge to separate warring Iraqi communities who have fallen prey to the vicious strategy of stoking a civil war.

This is the nightmare scenario. American policymakers must do everything in their power to make sure this doesn't occur.

Yes progress is being made. In large swaths of the country, encroachments of 'normal' life are moving afoot. Electricity production is back up. So is oil production. U.S. troops casualities are down. Constitution-drafting is successfully (at least for now) moving ahead.

But without order all this really doesn't matter much.

Getting the Message Out

Finally, there is, of course, a PR component to all this. Jerry Bremer needs to make sure Shi'a leaders, rather than lash out at the Americans for 'letting this happen,' also speak to their constituencies about the real perpetrators of these attacks.

These attackers are, most likely, some Iraqis. But they pick their targets based on recommendations from a foreign born terrorist who outlined the strategy in the memo quoted at length in this post.

That point should be made forcefully in the coming days. In Arabic, by local leaders, with conviction.

Posted by Gregory at March 2, 2004 11:11 AM
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