Funerals for 67 Dead Draw Thousands
Fears of Instability Spreading
Thousands of mourners came out in Najaf Monday to attend funerals for the 54 dead in that city from a massive bombing on Sunday. Emotions ran high, but key Shiite leaders seemed aware that the terrorism was intended to derail the upcoming elections, by producing large-scale Shiite-Sunni violence. AP reported, ‘ “These operations aim at driving the Shiites away from the political process and toward acts of revenge to undermine the national unity,” said Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, an official with the leading Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution. “The whole issue has to do with elections.” ‘
Barrie McKenna of the Toronto Globe and Mail makes the same point, writing, “One of the remarkable features of the spiral of violence in the lead-up to the Jan. 30 vote is that the powerful and well armed Shia militias have not struck back . . .” The most likely explanation is that the militias’ leadership is ordering this restraint, obeying the instructions of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The Shiites know that the elections are the surest way to win political power commensurate with their majority in the population, power they have been denied throughout the history of modern Iraq.
But Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post signals the clear danger that Sunni Arab and Shiite views of the guerrilla war are so diverging as to raise the specter of substantial communal turmoil in the future. The Sunni clerics fully support the Fallujans in their sermons, for instance. (Al-Zaman reports that on Saturday night into Sunday morning, clashes broke out again in the eastern Askari, Sina’i and Shuhada’ districts of Fallujah between US troops and guerrillas, and that the US forces called in air strikes on those quarters; I couldn’t find any mention of this report, coming from Iraqi eyewitnesses, in the US press.)
The Financial Times correspondents William Wallis and Mark Huband draw attention to yet another worrying possibility. The Saudis are concerned that volunteers who went to fight in Iraq are getting serious training and becoming battle-hardened, and that they may in future turn their new-found skills against the kingdom itself. They write, ‘ “The big trend for the coming 20 years will be the Iraqi jihad veterans. They are being seen as the extreme threat for the coming period. One key challenge is to establish who they are and where they are going, in order to make sure that the same mistake is not made as was made with the Arab Afghan veterans who fought against the Soviet Union,” the senior European intelligence official said. ‘
Given al-Qaeda’s increasing emphasis within Saudi Arabia on attacking US targets, and given Usama Bin Laden’s recent call for targetting oil facilities, the prospect of several hundred Saudi jihadis returning battle hardened from Iraq is indeed scarey. The FT does not note a parallel threat, which is that the Saudi Shiites of al-Hasa (that is where your petroleum is coming from, folks, so you should know the name) could become radicalized by increased contact with groups like the Sadr movement in Iraq. Saudi Arabia’s oil pipelines are extremely vulnerable to attack, and right now the kingdom is probably pumping some 13% of the petroleum produced in the world every day (11 million barrels a day out of a little over 80 million a day pumped). Drastic reductions in Saudi production because of persistent sabotage could throw the world into economic recession.