Guerrillas in Iraq staged a serious of bloody bombings targeting Shiites on Thursday. Shiite Muslims are on the move, meeting and going on pilgrimage to commemorate the 40th day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He was struck down by imperial Umayyad armies in 680 at what is now Karbala, where his tomb is a site of pilgrimage. Pilgrims in the south at Nasiriyah who were setting out to Karbala were hit, and nearly 40 were killed. There were also bombings of Shiites in Baghdad.
Such attacks have been going on since 2004.I wrote an op-ed for The Guardian about horrific attacks in spring of 2004 for that killed 200 Shiite pilgrims. There were likely 140,000 US troops in Iraq then, and security was completely in American hands. The way the US press wrings its hands about whether Iraq can make it on its own, in the face of these acts of sectarian violence, ignores the inability of the American troops to stop that violence when they were in the country. In fact, civilian casualties are down substantially under Iraqi rule over what they were when the US was in charge.
Now, as then, the Sunni Arab guerrillas are attempting to provoke Sunni-Shiite violence and turmoil, in hopes that order will break down and they will prove able to provoke a coup. They must be about the stupidest people on earth, since their crackpot plan has had zero success, and yet they keep at it.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has met with his security officials and impressed on them the necessity of prevailing against the threat of terrorism. Al-Maliki typically describes such attacks as the work of pro-Saddam forces and of Sunni fundamentalists.
The dismaying thing about the Sunni guerrilla attacks is that the theory behind them has been proven false over and over again. They have kept Iraq from entirely stabilizing and perhaps they deter foreign investment. But there aren’t so many mixed neighborhoods where Sunni and Shiite could conveniently fight, and the Sunnis were decisively defeated in 2006-2007. You couldn’t even have the kind of civil war again. So, the Sunni guerrillas are just being stupid. They are haunting the new Shiite-dominated order, but cannot hope to overturn it, especially in this mindless and brutal way.