*Today is Ashura’, the holiest day of the Shiite Muslim calendar, consecrated to mourning the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Husayn. It is a time of religious excitement, and young men often beat their chests and backs, sometimes with chains. In Lebanon yesterday, the head of the Shiite militia Hizbullah, Shaikh Hasan Nasrallah, warned the US against invading Iraq. He was responding to pronouncements in Washington that Iraqis would welcome a US invastion. According to Reuters, he said, “Don’t expect the people of this region to receive you with flowers and perfume. The people of this region will receive you with rifles, blood, arms, martyrdom and martyrdom operations.” He said that “Death to America” was his movement’s cry. About 60-65% of Iraqis are Shiites, but they have been brutalized by the Baath regime of Saddam Hussein and have a very different outlook from that of the Lebanese, who were invaded by Ariel Sharon in 1982. It is not impossible, though, that the presence for 2 or 3 years of US troops in Iraq might radicalize the Iraqi Shiites and bring them closer to Hizbullah’s mindset.
*The files found on Khalid Shaikh Muhammad’s computer mentioned six specific sites along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that Bin Laden is known to use as hide-outs. This information was the basis for the new optimism that Bin Laden might be captured soon. It seems to me, though, that he must have immediately known he would have to avoid past safe houses as soon as he heard of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad’s arrest.
*Units of the Shiite al-Badr Brigade are being positioned south of Sulyamaniyyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, having come over from Iran. The good thing about them is that they hate Saddam and will help the US get rid of him. The bad news is that they are religious hardliners a la Khomeini, which is not a direction any of us would like to see Iraq go after the war.
*A bomb blast on a Bombay commuter train killed 11 and injured 75 yesterday. The populace is jittery and today the trains were half empty. Everyone is afraid that the bomb was related to religious violence (it is after all `Ashura’). An attack on a train by Muslim radicals ignited anti-Muslim riots in Gujerat last year.