2006 March 27 Monday
US-Iraqi Raid Provokes Threats From Shiite Militias

Conditions in Iraq continue to worsen as the Shiites increasingly act in just as unrestrained a manner as the Sunni insurgents do. But the big difference is that the Shiites are more effective as a result of greater numbers, better equipment, and support by their government. The US government now thinks the Shiite militias are a bigger threat than the Sunni insurgents.

American officials are now saying that Shiite militias are the No. 1 problem in Iraq, more dangerous than the Sunni-led insurgents who for nearly the past three years have been branded the gravest security threat.


Earlier on Sunday, a mortar shell nearly hit Mr. Sadr's home in the southern holy city of Najaf. Immediately he accused the Americans of trying to kill him.

American officials have been more overt in the past week than ever in blaming Mr. Sadr's militia for a wave of sectarian bloodshed that seems to have no end.

Why are the Shiite militias a greater threat?

Both Shiites and Sunnis have militias. But the Shiite militias are much bigger, much better organized and, most critically, much better connected to the Iraqi security forces.

Connected to the Iraqi security forces? Connected? The Shiite militias are in the Iraqi govenment security forces.

I'd like to know whether the Shiites are killing more Sunnis or the Sunnis killing more Shiites at this point.

A recent US-Iraqi raid on what some Shiite leaders call a mosque has led many Shiite leaders to condemn US forces.

Senior ministers from the three main Shia factions united yesterday to denounce an American raid on a Baghdad mosque complex in which at least 20 people died, opening the biggest rift between the US and Iraq's majority Shia community since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

"At evening prayers, American soldiers accompanied by Iraqi troops raided the Mustafa mosque and killed 37 people," said Abd al-Karim al-Enzi, the security minister, who belongs to the Dawa party of the prime minister, Ibrahim al Jaafari. "They [the victims] were unarmed. They went in, tied up the people and shot them all. They did not leave any wounded."

Did the Iraqi or American soldiers do most of the killing? How many of those killed were militiamen shooting at the soldiers?

The Shiite leaders already were angry at the US for political reasons having to do with US attempts to balance power between Sunnis and Shiites.

Exactly what happened on Sunday night is in dispute, but in a political sense it no longer matters. Tension between the Americans and Shia leaders had been rising for weeks, since Washington started pushing for Mr Jabr's replacement as police minister and went on to oppose Mr Jaafari remaining as prime minister.

The Shiites are the majority. They do not want to share power with the Sunnis.

The Iraqi government's ruling parties (which are Shias) want the US to give up some control of military operations.

IRAQ'S ruling parties have demanded US forces cede control of security as the government investigated a raid on a Shiite mosque complex that ministers said involved "cold blooded" killings by US-led troops.

US commanders rejected the charges and said their accusers faked evidence by moving bodies of gunmen killed fighting Iraqi troops in an office compound. It was not a mosque, they said.

The problem is that if the US military was to start telling the Iraqi government what operations the US military was planning then the information would leak back to which ever militias the operation was aimed at.

Iraqi security forces were part of the operation where a mosque was supposedly attacked.

U.S. military officials—who said they thought they were targeting the gathering area for a kidnapping cell and not a mosque—said the U.S. and Iraqi forces were fired upon first and discovered a trove of weapons and roadside bombmaking materials in the complex of buildings.

The incident and subsequent fallout raises questions of who has control of Iraqi security forces—the U.S. military or the fledgling Iraqi government—and has led several prominent Iraqi politicians to call for an investigation into the incident.

Were these security forces Sunni or Shia Arabs?

I wouldn't be surprised if the Shiites are lying about what building was a mosque. Or they put a mosque right next to buildings that were supplying arms to the Mahdi Army. The Shiites are insisting that US troops better not dare to take on the Shiite militias.

Members of the major Shiite slate, the United Iraqi Alliance, warned U.S. officials against fighting Shiite forces.

"I warn them (the U.S.) that a battle with the calm giant Shiite means they are falling into a dangerous swamp," said Kuthair al-Khuzaie, a spokesman of the Shiite Dawa party, at a press conference. "The U.S. is making things more complicated and losing their credibility among the Iraqis."

The raid targeted Shiites, some of whom were affiliated with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, U.S. officials said. Al-Sadr has called for his followers to remain calm.

Moqtada al-Sadr probably sees the incident as great material for propaganda.

The US military wants to restrain the Shiite militias that are killing lots of Sunnis. When the US tries to do that the Shia leaders will look for ways to paint US actions in the worst light in order to make the US military more reluctant to act against Shia militias.

The US is between a rock and a hard place. The Shiite militias do not want to be restrained from killing Sunnis. The Shiite militias doing the ethnic cleansing are in cahoots with Shiite Iraqi government forces.

What frightens Iraqis most about these gangland-style killings is the impunity. According to reports filed by family members and more than a dozen interviews, many men were taken in daylight, in public, with witnesses all around. Few cases, if any, have been investigated.

Part of the reason may be that most victims are Sunnis, and there is growing suspicion that they were killed by Shiite death squads backed by government forces in a cycle of sectarian revenge. This allegation has been circulating in Baghdad for months, and as more Sunnis turn up dead, more people are inclined to believe it.

"This is sectarian cleansing," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of Parliament, who has maintained a degree of neutrality between Shiites and Sunnis.

Mr. Othman said there were atrocities on each side. "But what is different is when Shiites get killed by suicide bombs, everyone comes together to fight the Sunni terrorists," he said. "When Shiites kill Sunnis, there is no response, because much of this killing is done by militias connected to the government."

The civil war is intensifying. The Shiites do not want to be restrained. The Sunnis are increasingly looking toward the United States asking for protection. I think the US ought to help Sunnis and Shias to move out of areas where they are minorities. Doing that would amount to the US playing the role of ethical ethnic cleansers. But the result would be fewer people killed.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 March 27 08:47 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict


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