Robert Mayer makes some excellent observations about Shia and Sunni responses (especially political) to the mosque violence stemming from the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Iraq. Writing at Publius Pundit, Mayer correctly observes that “the finger points directly at Zarqawi, who is using the attack as a last ditch effort to prevent the forming of a new government. He is looking to divide the country after it has come so close to being united.”
Further, Mayer observes that many forces in Iraq are taking political advantage of the violence to further their own agendas, including the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), who immediately blamed Sunnis for the attack on the shrine. Mayer explains their reason for doing so:
The attack actually provides a perfect reason to pre-empt its own degradation as the country’s main political force.
I say this not in the light that the UIA itself committed the bombing, but that many factions within it are taking advantage of it. Especially the pro-Iran Moqtada al-Sadr, but even al-Hakim of the SCIRI. The “retaliation” attacks against Sunni are not random. They are mostly organized by his Mehdi Army militia. Following in turn, Iran blames America for the attacks on the Shia shrine. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani immediately issued a fatwa following the attack and urged the Shia faithful to restrain themselves, but politically they are beginning to divide between Sistani and Sadr. It is obvious at this point that Iran and al-Sadr are politically motivated in their response to the attack.
This is precisely the state of affairs in Iraq, not that Iraq is teetering on the brink of Civil War, but that political forces within the country will exploit any means of violence, instability, sectarian or religious divide, to heighten their own influence or gain some temporary advantage. (In this, they are not so much different than their elders in oppositional democracy, the Democrats of the United States Congress.)
Are their dangers? Of course. Is the situation dire, with much potential for retreat for nation building efforts? Certainly. But we play into the hands of extremists if we allow their aims to be fulfilled based on the perception of civil strife, alone. There are still choices to be made by those who can put out the flames, or fan them. Most of those choices rest on the hands of the Shia in Iraq, according to Mayer:
For once it looks as if the Shia political leadership will have to decide if it wants a unified, cooperative, and peaceful Iraq. They will eventually have to accept that their position of power is on the wane, and how they continue to respond in the aftermath of the attack on the Golden Mosque will be an important barometer of this. The Sunnis have restrained from violence even as they are being hunted down by militias, but for how long? Iraqis, both Sunni, Shia, and Kurd, cannot afford to point fingers at each other. If they need to play the blame game, the only ones that should be blamed are the miniscule minority of Al Qaeda and radical Wahhabi fighters.