Iraq's Fort Sumter

The BBC (which also gets credit for the picture) is reporting on an attack on the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, holy site for Shia all over the world and Iraq in particular. The shrine, resting place of the 10th and 11th Imam and the place where the 12th 'Hidden' Imam disappeared. The golden dome of the shrine along with it contents, were severely damaged when armed men forced their way into the shrine in the early morning and detonated explosives. Shia outrage is huge.

Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, maintains a site, Informed Comment, that I trust for all matters involving matters in the middle east. Please read his post on yesterday's violence. An excerpt:

Tuesday was an apocalyptic day in Iraq. I am not normally exactly sanguine about the situation there. But the atmospherics are very, very bad, in a way that most Western observers will miss.

The day started out with a protest by ten thousand people in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, against the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. These days, Shiites are weeping, mourning and flagellating in commemoration of the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson, Imam Husayn. So it is an emotional time in the ritual calendar. When feelings can easily be whipped up about issues like insults to the Prophet. An anti-Danish demonstration in Karbala is a surrogate for anti-American and anti-occupation sentiment. The US won't be able to stay in Iraq without increasing trouble of this sort.

Then guerrillas set off a huge bomb in a Shiite corner of the mostly Sunni Arab Dura quarter of Baghdad, killing 22 and wounding 28. Another 9 were killed in other violence around Iraq. These attacks are manifestations of an unconventional civil war.

Then real disaster struck. The guerriillas blew up the domed Askariyah shrine in Samarra. The shrine, sacred to Shiiites, honors 3 Imams or holy descendants of the Prophet. They are Ali al-Hadi, Hasan al-Askari, and his disappeared son Muhammad al-Mahdi. Thousands of Shiiites demonstrated in Samarra and in East Baghdad, against this desecration.

The Twelfh Imam or Mahdi is believed by Shiites to have disappeared into a supernatural realm (just as Christians believe in the ascension of Christ) from which he will someday return.

Some Shiites think his second coming is imminent. Muqtada all-Sadr and his followers are among them. They are livid about this attack on the shrine of the Mahdi's father.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also a firm believer in the imminent coming of the Mahdi. I worry that Iranian anger will boil over as a result of this bombing of a Shiite millenarian symbol.

Both Sunnis and Americans will be blamed. Very bad

Actually, that's the whole post. Sorry, Professor.

I can't help thinking that things in Iraq are getting worse, not better. I see no way this situation can end in anything but civil war.

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