February 24, 2006

The Gates Of Hell

Every time I've checked the news for the past 24 hours, the number of dead in Iraqi sectarian protests keep rising. It now stands at more than 130.

While politicians on all sides call for calm, it is not clear that ordinary citizens are prepared to listen any more. Baghdad's overnight curfew is being extended until 4 pm on Friday.

Riverbend has posted about the atmosphere:
There has been gunfire all over Baghdad since morning. The streets near our neighborhood were eerily empty and calm but there was a tension that had us all sitting on edge. We heard about problems in areas like Baladiyat where there was some rioting and vandalism, etc. and several mosques in Baghdad were attacked. I think what has everyone most disturbed is the fact that the reaction was so swift, like it was just waiting to happen...

No one went to work today as the streets were mostly closed. The situation isn’t good at all. I don’t think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There’s so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know- Sunnis and Shia alike- I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan.
The worst-case scenario is that this Sunni-versus-Shia violence could spread across the entire Middle East:
To the dismay of many Sunni Arab leaders, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent empowerment of the majority Shia through elections altered the regional balance of power.

In the words of King Abdullah of Jordan, who has expressed alarm at the growing influence of Tehran, this created a Shia “crescent” extending from Iran and Iraq into Lebanon.

One result has been that Shia populations in the Sunni-dominated Gulf have become more assertive in demanding their rights, both where they are in the majority but ruled by the Sunni, as in Bahrain, and in Saudi Arabia where they form less than 10 percent of the population.
Let us hope, as the Financial Times expresses it, that the bombers' attempt to drive a wedge between Islam’s two main sects will prove so transparent that it may have the opposite effect, and instead bring Sunni and Shia closer together (at least outside Iraq: internal divisions look set to suffer).

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