Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sunni-Shi'ite Violence

One incident the importance of which has never been fully appreciated in the United States is the destruction of the Askariyya Shrine in Samarra, Iraq last February. This event was critical enough for me to detour my Beloit class and discuss its importance, and many date the beginning of a true civil war in Iraq to that event. Jill Carroll definitely noticed a difference:
"Two days earlier, on Feb. 22, an important Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, had been blown up. Shiites had attacked Sunni mosques in retaliation - the result being a vicious cycle of attack-and-response that had altered the world of my Sunni Islamist kidnappers.

"We arrived back at the place I called the 'clubhouse,' near Abu Ghraib, later that night. Slumped in a plastic chair in a room lit by the stark half-light of a fluorescent camping lantern, another mujahid told me their new bottom line.

"'Aisha,' he said, calling me by the Sunni nickname they'd given me, 'now our No. 1 enemy are the Shias. Americans are No. 2.'

"The wave of sectarian violence which overtook Iraq following the destruction of Samarra's Askariya Shrine had a huge impact on the nature of my captivity.

"That was because the level of activity of the mujahideen group which had seized me greatly increased. Many of its members were out fighting their new war almost every day."

But, in a comment that hints at a point that I've tried to make for years, and that goes back to passions from as far back as high school against the idea of timeless incomprehensible enmities, she also hints at the former state of affairs:
"In his state of agitation and boredom, he began raising suspicions about the Shiite neighbors. They didn't know I was there. They didn't appear to know that the men at this house were mujahideen. They'd drop off fresh bread or yogurt, or stop to chat outside, just as Iraqis had done for generations.

"They did not yet recognize that those days of amity were over."

Intercommunal violence in Iraq is not something deeply rooted in society and culture, but an outgrowth of the spread of extremist ideologies among the population, particularly in Sunni areas. They, as much as anything else, represent the price of our failure in the country.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)


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