February 24, 2006

Who on earth would want to incite the Mahdi Army?

This is where I was going with yesterday's questions about the Golden Dome bombing.

This morning on NPR there was a brief interview (audio) with Sunni politician Saleh Mutlaq. After saying the Sunnis were not seeking a civil war, he stated his opinion, cryptically, that the bombing had been committed with the intention of mobilizing the Shiites out of the civil government process and into civil war mode. Who would do that? "Intelligence agents," he said. When pressed to be more specific, he said, almost mumbling, "Iran".


The first question is, why would the Sunnis, who are between a rock and hard place as it is, want to spur a civil war? It can be argued that they are benefitting from the chaos created by the insurgents, some of whom are their own people, but the fact is that they would be whupped by both militant Shiites within Iraq and by foreign fighters, largely from Iran, and would have worn out the patience of the U.S. to help them keep their modest political foothold.

Second, why would they specifically target Sadr, via the Golden Dome, thus infuriating the most militarily and politically dangerous Shiite faction and maximizing the probable lethality of the reaction? Especially when the Golden Dome is in Samarra (Sunni territory), guarded by Sunnis.

Third, why would Sadr react by advocating restraint toward the Sunnis, but redirecting the backlash toward the U.S., who had nothing to do with the bombing? It was Sunnis who were guarding the mosque, but Sadr claimed it was the U.S.'s responsibility, along with the Iraqi government to guard the dome. Of course Sadr is no friend of the U.S., but it's hard to believe he would let the Sunnis slide on the bombing, if he actually thought they had done it.

It seems unlikely that a Sunni group would tempt fate at a moment when they have a moderate amount of political traction. But even if they did, it seems odd for them to pick this target. The bombing galvanized the most dangerous and cohesive group of militant Shiites in Iraq - the Mahdi Army - and, via Sadr, instigated more railing against the U.S. occupation. These are ends sought, more than anyone, by Iran. So if there are whispers that Iranian agents bombed the Golden Dome mosque, they are definitely worth listening to.

If nothing else, they show just how hard it is going to be for the U.S. to craft the unified Iraqi government (inexplicably, by this point) desired by Bush. How deep are we going to get dragged in the futile pursuit of #43's legacy?


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