Karbala Bomb Blast
A bomb blast outside the holy shrine of Imam Husain in Karbala left Shaikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala’i wounded with shrapnel in his legs and killed two of his bodyguards along with six other persons. Altogether 32 were wounded. Al-Karbala’i is a prominent spokesperson for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf. Sistani recently threw his moral authority behind the project of creating a unified Shiite list to run in the upcoming elections, called the United Iraqi Alliance.
Neo-Baathist forces are clearly extremely concerned that this list, which includes major Shiite parties such as Dawa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, will end up dominating parliament. Shiites are enthusiastic about voting and are aware of the role of Sistani in the creation of this list, and they will vote for it even if he does not explicitly endorse it.
The Karbala bombing was aimed at enraging Shiites and encouraging Shiite-Sunni communal violence, at eliminating an important Sistani aide (and warning the ayatollahs that they are vulnerable), and at creating a sense of instability that might help derail the elections. The remaining Baath officers in the guerrilla insurgency are the most likely culprits, though the Jordan-based Tawhid wa Jihad group is also a possibility. Same strategy, in either case.
Interim Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan attacked the United Iraqi Alliance as a mere stalking horse for Iran. Shaalan is one of three ex-Baathists who dominate the interim government, and he caused a stir some months ago by calling Iran the “number one enemy of Iraq,” a sentiment in which even his prime minister, Iyad Allawi, would not join him.
The Iraqi Shiites are Arabs and maintain their independence, even if they do have significant ties with the Iranian Shiites. From the moment that George W. Bush decided to overthrow Saddam and hold democratic elections, he ensured that Shiites would dominate Baghdad, and that Baghdad and Tehran would enjoy relatively warm relations. The only way to stop that from happening now would be to have Allawi and his neo-Baathist clique make a coup, and then be willing to back them militarily against the subsequent Shiite uprising. I doubt it could succeed, and it would be politically impossible even for the Bush administration.
I think if elections come off on Jan. 30, Shaalan is history, anyway.
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera is reporting that guerrillas in Samarra took over a police station and seized weapons. A US assault was supposed to have cleaned out Samarra earlier this fall, as a training exercise for Fallujah. But clearly the guerrillas are still operating there.