43 Dead, More than 95 Wounded in Najaf, Karbala
Ambush in Baghdad
Guerrillas detonated a huge bomb near the bus station in Karbala on Sunday, destroying several minibuses and leaving dead and wounded. Then an hour later, guerrillas set off another big explosion, this time in downtown Najaf, at a funeral procession. The bomb exploded just yards away from where the American-appointed governor, Adnan Zurfi, and his police chief, Ghalib al-Jazairi, were standing. In Najaf, 30 persons were killed and about 45 wounded.
In Baghdad, guerrillas ambushed a car carrying election workers, spraying it with machine gun fire and killing 3.
Najaf and Karbala are the two holiest cities in Iraq for Shiite Muslims. Najaf is the site of the shrine of the Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, whom Shiites hold to be the rightful vicar of the Prophet. Karbala hosts the tomb of Imam Husain, the son of Ali, whom Shiites honor and ritually mourn as a martyr.
The geography of the attacks continues to suggest that the guerrillas are attempting to provoke Shiite on Sunni violence as a way of disrupting stability. Likewise, they are attempting to demonstrate that they can effectively torpedo any attempt to hold elections. If they can bomb so brazenly in the holy cities, where locals are watchful and where US troops had fought so recently to clear out the Mahdi Army, then they can bomb at will anywhere. The 9000 polling stations planned for January 30 cannot possibly be guarded from such attacks.
On Friday and Saturday, , guerrillas had demonstrated their ability to disrupt Iraq’s petroleum pipelines with a series of bombs.
Also on Saturday, guerrillas claimed credit for the killing of two American contractors in Iraq.
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the daughter of former Iraqi president (back in the 1960s), Abdul Salam Arif, was killed by gunmen, along with her husband, and their son was kidnapped.
In contrast to the violence in West Baghdad and in the shrine cities, in Sadr City or the slums of Shiite East Baghdad, relative calm has prevailed for weeks, allowing the US to do some community development work, including clearing trash from the streets. The Sadr movement is strong in East Baghdad, but Sadr has declared neutrality toward the upcoming elections, while many Shiites are hopeful that they will produce a Shiite-dominated government that will pave the way for the end of the US occupation. As a result of these hopes, along with a past campaign of US bombing that made it clear it would not put up with armed militiamen patrolling the streets, the situation has been quiet in the vast slum.
I don’t want to take anything away from these necessary development projects, but merely collecting the trash is not that big an accomplishment, and shouldn’t be seen as a triumph this late in the day.