The Western Press on Religious Violence in Iraq
Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor gives further, searching consideration to the mysterious murder of clerics on Sunday and Monday and sees dangers of sectarian violence increasing in Iraq.
Paul Wood of the BBC reports on the situation in the British-dominated South. It is not a pretty picture, and it should be remembered that this part of Iraq is generally less problematic than areas to its north.
Wood describes the fighting in Amara during the recent US attack on Sadrists in Najaf. Amara and Kut were virtually ignored in the US press. Wood writes:
‘ British officers characterise the August fighting as merely a “spike” in the violence. Some spike. Last month, British troops fired 100,000 rounds of ammunition in southern Iraq. . . The base in Amara sustained more than 400 direct mortar hits. The British battalion there counted some 853 separate attacks of different kinds: mortars, roadside bombs, rockets and machine-gun fire. They say that no British regiment has had such intense “contact” since Korea. ‘
Wood implicitly explains why the British military has generally done a much better job in Iraq than the US forces. Speaking of the occupation of some intersections in Basra by small Mahdi Army units during the assault on fighters at the holy shrine in Najaf, he says:
‘There are lots of moderates here who support you. But if the shrines are touched, I’ll kill you myself.” That was the warning given to a British brigadier by a leading Shia figure in Basra, during the long hot month of August . . . Since the shrines were not touched, it’s thought that only 400 hard-core gunmen joined the fight against the multi-national forces in Basra. Still, in an area which is 99% Shia, the great danger for the British is of a general Shia uprising . . . The British – with tanks, air support and thousands of soldiers – say they could have destroyed the small militia force attacking them. But they were asked by local people not to turn Basra into a war zone. And because they didn’t, the majority still welcome them here . . . But perhaps the most worrying development of the August fighting was that none of Basra’s 25,000 police officers came to the aid of the British soldiers. Some even helped the gunmen.
To be fair, it seems increasingly clear that George W. Bush keeps ordering the US military to attack in such situations, against the better judgment of his own officers. So if the US had been in Basra, Bush would have in fact insisted on turning it into a war zone and alienating its 1.3 million Shiites. As it is, Wood interviews caretaker PM Iyad Allawi, who admits that he didn’t have the authority with the Basra police to countermand the local commissioner’s instruction to his men not to aid the British. When a prime minister can’t control the police commissioners of his major cities, he is a helpless giant.
Alistair Ryan of Reuters explains that Iran faces severe constraints in intervening in Iraq. He quotes Columbia University Iran analyst Gary Sick as saying that the last thing the Iranians want is a civil war in Iraq. Sick is right. Still, Iran is giving money to various Iraqi factions, including to the Sadrists in Basra, according to British military intelligence.