An Ebb in Fighting
Over two days after the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque, is the violence surging or abating?
The Dome of the Golden Mosque at night. Picture courtesy of the soldiers of the 3/69 Field Artillery Regiment.
Two and a half days after the destruction of the Golden Dome in Samarra, is the violence and retaliation attacks increasing or decreasing in Iraq? The Belmont Club's Richard Hernandez attempts to establish the framework for a timeline and the progression of violence in Iraq since the destruction of the Golden Dome in Samarra. Mr. Hernandez uses both established media and Iraqi bloggers to piece this together, quite a difficult task. I know because I tried to refine this, without much success.
It appears the bulk of the violence occurred on Wednesday and portions or Thursday, based on a reading of the news reports and Iraq bloggers. The New York Times describes today's situation in Iraq as such; "Across Iraq on Friday, people walked through quiet streets to attend weekly prayer service at neighborhood mosques. Traffic was light because of an extraordinary daytime curfew that the government had put in place to try to prevent worshippers from attending Friday Prayers, out of fear that imams would incite more violence. The groups that did gather appeared to do so in a largely peaceful manner, though." The London Times reports families are claiming the bodies of their murdered relatives at the mortuary - an event unlikely to take place during sustained violence.
Iraqi bloggers Riverbend and Iraqi the Model have not provided Friday updates as of this writing. Zayed at Healing Iraq reports on the violence of the preceding days (his post was at 1:13 AM, presumably Iraqi time). Christopher Allbritton updates his blog Back to Iraq and reports a small protest of 70-100 Iraqis armed but peacefully marching towards the interior ministry.
There is anecdotal evidence that some Iraqi Security Forces provided assistance to the militias, but the assistance appears to be of the passive nature. The Times Online reports, without providing details of the sources or locations; "teams of Shia killers had moved apparently unchallenged through the city, attacking Sunni mosques, rounding up and killing Sunni men, sometimes cheered on by soldiers at Iraqi army checkpoints." Zayed states, "There was no presence of security forces that I could witness. Friends from areas around Sadr city said pickups full of armed men in black were patrolling the streets, unchallenged by Iraqi Security Forces. Many people swear that the Interior ministry forces are explicitly siding with the Mahdi militiamen in their rampage of arson and plundering." The New York Times reports "Yet Iraqi forces did little to contain the violence. In at least one case in Baghdad, Iraqi witnesses said that policemen joined in attacking a mosque."
Organized attacks against Sunni mosques or citizens was not the policy of the Iraqi Police or Iraqi Army, and there is no evidence of officers or politicians ordering the security forces to assist the militias. The actions reported are isolated examples.
The initial violence appears to have been spontaneous and confined to the first 24-48 hours after the attack. In situations such as these (riots, spontaneous demonstrations) the security forces (police and military) are often absent, or if present, hesitant to intervene. The difficult situation of a civil disturbance, combined with the inherent bureaucratic inertia of government organizations and the struggle to formulate a plan to respond cause a big lag time in a meaningful response. And the simple fact is the Iraqi Security Forces are far from mature and self reliant organizations. The Washington Post reports the combination of the curfew, driving ban and the deployment of police and Army has had an effect; "On Friday afternoon, news services reported that scattered attacks killed five Iraqis after troops and police threw up a web of checkpoints in Baghdad and in the mixed Sunni-Shiite provinces of Diyala, Babil and Salahuddin."
Richard Hernandez concludes his analysis of the security situation as follows; "So that's a good-looking trend from 22nd to the 24th. The trouble seems to have run out of gas for the present, though it may pick up again." We concur. The spasm of violence appears to have been contained withing two days of its inception. The reaction of the Iraqi government over the next few days and weeks is critical in determining the outcome of this crisis. Security forces must reestablish control, and Sadr's militias must be reigned in to restore the security situation in Iraq. And Iraq's political and religious leaders must continue to make call for restraint and reproachment, as Haider has described:
[W]hat is not being reported is the calling for calm and cooperation by all Sunni & Shiite religious leaders (except the young Alsadar who remains a thorn). The demonstrations of national unity. The mullahs in Sunni & Shiite mosques calling for support for injured brothers and sisters, national calm. They do not report on the Shiites standing guard outside of Sunni mosques in the south. Etc...There are two sides to this incident. The side of revenge, anger and the much larger side of unity and support. This bombing in Samarah has brought more unity amongst Iraqis than any other incident since the stampede on the Kahdumiah bridge (when Felujans [mostly Sunni] donated blood for the wounded in Kahdumiah [mostly Shiite] in Baghdad). Iraqi political parties, community leaders, religious leaders, political leaders all are strongly condemning this bombing and asking for national support and help for the people of Samarah. This outpouring of compassion, support and help is what is not being reported.