Iraq: sectarian slaughter threatens “unity government”

Is it civil war yet? You tell us. Commentators have weaseled out of calling it that by making an arbitrary litmus test the fracturing of the “unity government”—even if that government has little real power and violence on the ground is approching Bosnia ’95 levels. Now, it seems, even that litmus test is about to fail. From Lebanon’s Daily Star, Nov. 25:

Militants killed dozens of people – including six worshippers who were burned to death – and set mosques on fire in a Sunni Arab enclave in Baghdad on Friday, one day after a series of car bombings in the capital’s Shiite stronghold of Sadr City killed 202 people.

Just a few hours before the attack, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s political group threatened to quit the national unity government if Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki meets US President George W. Bush as scheduled in Jordan on November 29.

As political leaders on all sides pleaded for restraint and extended a curfew in the capital, suspected Shiite militiamen on Friday stormed Hurriyya, an area close to Shiite enclaves in west Baghdad, burning four mosques and homes, Deputy Prime Minister Salem al-Zobaie told Reuters.

A source at police headquarters said 30 were killed and 48 wounded in the attacks. Residents spoke of two dozen or more dead after gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and automatic weapons rampaged through the area.

Three Sunni mosques elsewhere in Baghdad came under attack later in the day.

In one attack, black-clad gunmen grabbed six Sunnis as they left worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive near an Iraqi Army post.

The attacks were an apparent reprisal for the attacks in Sadr City the day before.

Imadeddine al-Hashemi, a university professor visiting Baghdad, said he was at the Nidaa Allah mosque when it was attacked during Friday prayers and 14 people were killed.

“It was attacked by RPGs and many people were killed and wounded. When the gunmen moved on to attack another mosque we evacuated the wounded,” he told Reuters.

He said about 10 people were killed at the nearby Ahbab Mustafa Mosque.

Homes were set on fire, killing at least two children aged eight and 14 and a woman who died of smoke inhalation.

“I went to help one of the houses that was attacked. Two women and a man were wounded. I took away the women but when I went back to fetch the man he had been shot in the head and was dead,” he said.

He said the Iraqi military was slow to come to the aid of residents, but by Friday evening the neighborhood was reported to be calm, with Iraqi troops patrolling the area.

Earlier Friday, two suicide bombs ripped through a Shiite

market in northern Iraq, killing 22 people, and mortars were exchanged between rival neighborhoods in the capital.

After dark, a US helicopter fired on Sadr City in apparent response to ritual shooting at one of dozens of funeral parties taking place in the area, an Interior Ministry source said.

Sadr, the young cleric whose Mehdi Army militia dominates the sprawling east Baghdad neighborhood, challenged Sheikh Harith al-Dari, the Sunnis’ most influential leader, to issue a fatwa that condemned Sunni attacks on Shiites.

He said Dari should ban Sunnis from joining Al-Qaeda in Iraq and organize the reconstruction of the Shiite Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra, north of the capital.

Suspected Al-Qaeda bombers blew the shrine apart on February 22.

Sadr also sought to take advantage of the carnage in Sadr City to ram home demands for an end to US occupation. Aides said they would quit Maliki’s Cabinet and Parliament if Maliki went ahead with the planned meeting with Bush.

A White House spokesman said: “We condemn these senseless acts of violence that are clearly aimed at undermining the Iraqi people’s hopes for a peaceful and stable Iraq … The United States is committed to helping the Iraqi people.”

The spokesman said Friday that Bush is sticking with his plan to meet with Maliki in Jordan next Wednesday and Thursday, despite the boycott threat by Shiites legislators.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for calm and restraint in Iraq.

Annan “condemns these heinous acts in the strongest possible terms,” UN spokesman Yves Sorokobi said.

See our last posts on Iraq and the escalating sectarian cleansing.