Just last week, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s commander in Iraq, once again declared all out war on the Shiites, an Islamic sect despised by al Qaeda for their interpretation of the Koran and their ritual practices. The timing of Zarqawi’s statement coincided with the assault on Tal Afar, but also with a Shiite holiday in Karbala that begun yesterday. Regardless of the threats, the Shiite faithful are make the pilgrimage to Karbala by the thousands.
Karbala has been relatively quiet despite the difficult security situation created by the mass movement of Shiites into and out of the city. Eight Iraqis are killed in two separate car bomb attacks on the road to Karbala in the towns of Mahmoudiya and Latifiya. A plot to kill pilgrims within the city was uncovered. Karbala is a target rich environment for al Qaeda, yet their weapons have essentially been silent thus far.
Zarqawi’s declaration of sectarian war against the Shiites is met with stiff resistance within the Shiite and Sunni communities. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has urged for calm in the face of Zarqawi’s threats. And the pro-insurgency Muslim Scholars association called for Zarqawi to retract his remarks as “It harms the image of jihad, obstructs the success of the resistance in Iraq, and leads to more innocent Iraqi bloodshed.”
But perhaps the most astonishing rebuke of Zarqawi’s jihad on Shiites comes from within the insurgency itself. Various insurgent groups, including Gaish Mohamed, Al Qa’qa Regiments, Islamic Army, Iraqi Mujahideen Army and Al Naser Salah Eddin renounced Zarqawi’s statements; “The objective of resistance in their military attacks is solely the occupation and its assistants. The call for murdering all Shiaas is a fire that would burn Iraqis; Sunnis and Shiaas Resistance consists of Iraqi military and popular organizations that are not connected with any formations outside them. The main objective is liberating Iraq from the occupants and establishing national free regime in it Resistance does not target any Iraqis, regardless of their sectarian or racial loyalties, unless connected with the occupant.”
Zarqawi feels the pressure from the traditional bases of support within the Sunni community and is forced to retract (or “clarify” ) his jihad on Shiites. Now, only the Shiites who cooperate with the infidel (basically all of them) are the targets of his wrath.
al Qaeda’s efforts at creating an Iraqi civil war now lie in ruin, as the group they claims to represent, the Sunnis, including the most “militant’ among them, reject the plan outright and in public. They fully understand the implications of declaring a civil war against the majority of the country that controls the levers of power and is backed by the United States.
This does not mean that Zarqawi cannot or will not attempt to create the conditions for civil war. He is very likely to continue to do so. However, as he has openly declared his intentions, any mass casualty attacks on Shiites will now be seen in the light of his statements to create such an environment. Zarqawi will find it difficult to openly enlist the domestic elements of the insurgency for assistance in mass casualty assaults against Shiites, as they will not want to be branded as traitors.
al Qaeda in Iraq may have tactically restrained itself by rushing to declare war on all Shiites. It will now be difficult politically to conduct major attacks on obvious targets as there is little support among the indigenous Sunni insurgency for the wholesale slaughter of the Shiites. Zarqawi may do so anyway, as his political and diplomatic acumen is often found wanting. Such is the fate of mass murderers.
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