Monday, March 14, 2005


Sectarian Assault II

The first Sectarian assault on Iraq started immediately after the invasion and lasted up to April of last year. It was shattered by Fallujah-I and most Shiites’ stand of solidarity with their Sunni brethren. That also coincided with Moqtada’s people’s clash with the US administration.

Assault II started in October of last year just ahead of Fallujah-II. It was more vicious. Moqtada’s ‘rebellion’ had been diffused by Sistani. Many anti-Shiite noises started to be made from supposedly ‘Sunni’ quarters, particularly Fallujah. We began to hear about ‘sectarian’ killings. People were being killed simply because they were Shiites or Sunnis.

There is no doubt now that many of the violent incidents in which Iraqis are hurt are designed to look ‘sectarian’ in nature. They were, and still are, increasingly less ‘random’ and more ‘sectarian-looking’.

It amazes me, amuses me and makes me proud that ordinary people, ignorant people, people who grumble about Sunnis or Shiites all day long… did not fall for it!! Any fair-minded person who follows the news of ‘sectarian-looking’ violence in Iraq must give those ordinary people the credit they deserve.

A few anecdotes:

There was much talk for some time during the past few months about a group of villains killing people supposedly on sectarian grounds in Latifeyyah south of Baghdad on the road leading to the holy Shiite cities of Kerbala and Najaf. That caused considerable ill feelings. A group of these villains was recently caught and they were definitely not local! Many people in Iraq now know that.

In a small mixed town, the son of a person building a Husseineyyah (a Shiite mosque) was kidnapped. His father was told to demolish the Husseineyyah if he wanted his son back. Links to a Sunni tribe in the area were suspected. Things started getting out of control. There was much ‘sectarian’ bitterness. The accused tribe met to discuss the problem. The head of the Sunni tribe offered himself to replace the abducted young man. The gang changed the demand to ransom money. They were exposed to be simply a criminal gang. The ‘sectarian’ aspect vanished.

On the eve of the Shiite holy day of Ashura, the day commemorating Imam Hussein’s tragic death, people usually spend the night cooking huge meals and distribute the food to neighbors and to the poor. Some Sunnis also do it. The day after Ashura, my grocer was telling me how his Christian neighbor also took part in this activity. This was the first time I heard of such a thing. It made me smile. It also reminded me of something I once heard long ago. It was said that a Christian with the name of John stood with Imam Hussein to the end and was killed with him.

During the day of Ashura, there were many incidents targeting people taking part in the rituals. In a mixed district in Baghdad called Bayyaa', a would-be suicide bomber asked someone on the street whether the commotion on that street was a Fat-ha [wake] or an Ashura ritual. Only a foreigner could not tell the difference. That particular fellow was caught. Another one succeeded. He bombed a Sunni Fat-ha! It was on the news!

On Election Day, a middle aged man, living in a neighborhood which was predominantly anti-election wanted to vote. He and his wife carried a couple of bags to pretend that they were going shopping. A cluster of his neighbors was on the street. They started making jokes about the shopping bags and teasing him about them. The man smiled, exchanged small talk with them and went on with his errand! No one wanted to have a fight. No one wanted to kill anybody else.

People and their indigenous leaders have, yet again, shown an enormous degree of restraint, tolerance and wisdom. Sectarian Assault II is by no means over yet... but so far, the people, wisdom and tolerance are winning!

Not a single major sectarian incident involving ordinary people was recorded or even heard of.

This is the country I know and live in, not the one portrayed to you by the mass media.

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