Clashes between rival militias in the Shiite holy city of Karbala left some 52 dead and 206 wounded on Tuesday, according to late reports from Iraqi security officials. About a million Shiite pilgrims had converged on the city to commemorate the birthday of the Twelfth Imam, the 12th in the line of succession from the Prophet Muhammad, who Shiites expect to appear supernaturally at the end of days.
The fighting let the government to declare a curfew and to insist that the pilgrims disperse. The government sent some buses from Baghdad. Reuters says its stringers in Karbala identified the two sides as the Mahdi Army of the Sadr Movement and the Badr Corps of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). Three hotels in downtown Karbala were burned in the disturbances.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic two stories about what happened. The first is a somewhat implausible story that Iraqi police just began firing at the pilgrims indiscriminately when they chanted slogans criticizing the government of Nuri al-Maliki for its repressive policies in the south.
So what’s going on here? The Supreme Council controls the shrine and mosque of Imam Husayn in Karbala, among the holiest shrines in the Shiite world. Pilgrims give donations when they visit the shrine, worth millions every year, and being able to preach at its mosque lends prestige to the incumbent. Al-Zaman says that the Sadrists, which in 2003 for a while controlled the shrine, were using the cover of the enormous crowds to steal a march on the Badr Corps, seeking to occupy the shrine. Badr appears to have fought them off. A lot of Karbala police were recruited from Badr, so it is always hard to tell militia on militia violence from police on militia violence.
That the Shiite government of Nuri al-Maliki cannot maintain order in the supremely Shiite city of Karbala during a major holy rite is very worrisome. In a way, Karbala’s violence during the past two days reminds me of the Shiite on Shiite violence in Basra. The south seems less and less stable, as the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps square off against one another, each seeking to control as many provinces as possible.
Leaders of the Mahdi Army and the Supreme Council in Karbala were said to be meeting urgently with the Shiite Grand Ayatollahs in an effort to find a way to get the two groups to stop fighting.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Mahdi Army elements attacked offices of the Supreme Council in several places in Iraq in reprisal for SIIC fighting with the Mahdi Army in Karbala. McClatchy reports of these clashes:
‘Gunmen broke in the office of Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) in Kadhemiyah neighborhood north Baghdad around 5,00 pm and kidnapped 4 guys and burnt the office. . .
5 people killed and 20 injured in clashes between gunmen and guards of an office of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) in Habibiyah neighborhood east Baghdad. The clashes broke out around 6,00 pm and still ongoing.
Gunmen attacked the office of SIIC in Amil neighborhood southwest Baghdad around 7,30. The clashes stills ongoing and no casualties reported.
Gunmen attacked the office of the SIIC in Husseiniyah town north Baghdad around 7,30 Pm. No casualties reported.’
McClatchy rounds up other political violence in Iraq for Tuesday. Sunni Arab guerrillas were attacking Shiite pilgrims. There are all these underground wars in Iraq.
‘ Baghdad: 4 pilgrims were wounded when gunmen attacked them in AlBo’etha area south Baghdad around 7,30 am. . .
6 pilgrims were injured when gunmen attacked them in Mahmoudiyah town south Baghdad around 7,45 am. . .
A civilian was killed and 3 others wounded in a parked car bomb explosion in Sheikh Omar neighborhood downtown Baghdad around 10,30 am. . .
Gunmen broke in the mosque of Haj Isma’il in Qahira neighborhood north Baghdad around 5,00 pm killing 3 men and kidnapping another 3 men . . .
Police found 13 unidentified bodies in Baghdad today. . .