Karbala and the surge of Iraq attacks
Suicide attacks on Shiite pilgrims. Mass murders of police. It's not 2006 in Iraq anymore, but sometimes it feels like it.
The suicide attacks against Iraqi police this week were ominous enough. But today's twin suicide bombings in the shrine city of Karbala, as throngs of Shiite pilgrims gathered to commemorate Imam Hussein, are a reminder that there's still plenty of sectarian hatred in Iraq and that the business of national reconciliation has only just begun.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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About 50 people were killed in today's attack, probably by the supporters of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Suicide attacks on police yesterday and today in Baquba, 50 miles north of Baghdad, claimed about ten lives. On Tuesday in Tikrit, hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, over 60 people were killed in a suicide attack on a police recruiting station.
Massive suicide attacks on Shiite pilgrims and places of worship have been a fact of life in Iraq from practically the moment in March 2003 when Saddam's statue was pulled down in Firdos Square in Baghdad. The following August, two huge car bombs outside the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf murdered 83 people, among them Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the country's two large Shiite political parties.
In the years after, the steady tattoo of Sunni attacks on Shiites helped tip Iraq into civil war (though they weren't the only reason; Shiites participated in their fair share of score settling against Sunnis in the wake of Saddam's fall). In 2006, when a bomb destroyed the Askariya Shrine in Samarra (the third holiest site to Shiites in Iraq after the shrines of Ali and Hussein), Iraq's bloodletting hit new heights of indiscriminate savagery, with reprisal killings and torture commonplace on both sides of the sectarian divide.
Could today's attack have that kind of impact? Probably not by itself. As recently as July of 2009, five Shiite mosques were simultaneously bombed in Baghdad, claimed 29 lives, and it didn't prompt major reprisals.
Today, Iraq has a fully sovereign government, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a Shiite, and the party of the assassinated Ayatollah Hakim (since renamed the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) has a major voice in government. Militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militiamen committed many of the atrocities on Sunnis during the worst of Iraq's fighting, has muted his rhetoric. Last week, in his first major speech since returning home from religious schooling in Qom, Iran he denounced sectarian violence and is giving signs that he wants to focus on a political route to power, at least for now.