7 March 2004

'Iraq's Real Holy War

Anti-Shiism is embedded in the ideology of Sunni militancy that has risen to prominence across the region in the last decade. Wahhabi Sunnis, who dominate Saudi Arabia's religious affairs and export their philosophy to its neighbors, have led the charge, declaring Shiites 'infidels' and hence justifying their murder. (The legacy of Wahhabi violence against Shiites dates back to at least 1801, when Wahhabi armies from the Arabian Peninsula invaded southern Iraq and desecrated the holy shrine at Karbala.)

These anti-Shiite beliefs have spread to South Asia and Afghanistan, where the Taliban government used them to justify massacres of Shiite civilians. Even with the fall of the Taliban, widespread killings of Shiites and bombings of Shiite mosques and community centers in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have continued.

Many of the Sunni militants responsible for the attacks were trained in the same camps in Afghanistan as the Qaeda fighters and the Taliban soldiers. They fought side by side when the Taliban secured its grip on Afghanistan, notably the captures of Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan in 1998, during which at least 2,000 Shiite civilians were murdered. And Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, is also a prime suspect in the bombing of the Shiite shrine of Mashad in Iran in 1994.

The point here is that the forces that are today killing Shiites in Iraq have their roots all over the region. It is a network of Arabs and non-Arabs, South Asians and Middle Easterners, Wahhabis and non-Wahhabis. And if these men succeed in starting a sectarian civil war, it will quickly spread beyond Iraq's borders.

The war party is not responsible for the Wahhabbi movement. But the occupation is responsible for security and for Iraq's longterm future. Apparently the potential civil war across the entire region is just getting dropped in the too hard basket. As long as it doesn't happen before the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.

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