AP reports that Shiite and Sunni clerics jointly led a big procession from East Baghdad to Kazimiyah on Wednesday, attempting to emphasize communal harmony in the face of the Ashura’ bombings. Since the perpetrators were almost certainly Sunni Arabs, there was some danger of anguished Shiites lashing out at Iraqi Sunnis. Shiite leaders, however, have blamed outsiders and have deflected some blame onto the US for not supplying better security. Some angry Shiite crowds chanted against the US and burned a facsimile of an American flag. Az-Zaman said that Iraqi police report no instances of reprisals or communal violence, saying that Iraqi cities are calm. US authorities revealed that they had evidence that the bombings were planned to coincide with attacks on leading Shiite clerics, but that this part of the plot was foiled (al-Hayat).
The Washington Post reports the worrisome development that the Shiite political parties have deployed their paramilitaries in force in Kazimiyah. There is a growing conviction among the party leaders that they can provide better security if allowed to than either the Coalition troops or newly-trained Iraqi police. The problem is that this attitude may spur the growth of these militias, who in the long term may pose threats to the safety of Iraqis themselves. (I saw this happen in Beirut).
Meanwhile, US military commander in Iraq John Abizaid told Congress that the attack was certainly masterminded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the “Arab-Afghan” leader of al-Tawhid. He said the modus operandi, and the sophistication of the multiple attacks (one was planned for Basra, as well, but was foiled) pointed to Zarqawi. He also said the US forces had found leaflets saying that the US had fired mortars into the Shiite processions, suggesting that the terrorists had hoped to blame the US for the violence itself, and not just for the lack of security that allowed it to happen.
My own perception is that Abizaid, an Arabist with an excellent reputation as a commander, has been much less prone to blaming the guerrilla attacks in Iraq on foreign forces than some other generals. If he is now blaming Zarqawi so confidently, I find that persuasive. He has a hell of a lot more credibility than whatever anonymous neocon hack in the CPA tried to implicate Iran (see below).
For a profile of Zarqawi see Walter Pincus’s piece in the Washington Post. (Truth in advertising: I am quoted.)