Monday, June 18, 2007
He's a Uniter, Not a Divider
Another Sunni mosque in the Basra area of southern Iraq was destroyed Saturday, as a leading Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, called on his followers to march to the Sunni town of Samarra next month to a revered Shiite shrine that was attacked Wednesday.
The call for a pilgrimage to the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, could draw tens of thousands of Shiites into an area north of Baghdad that is a stronghold of the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Since the bombing of Askariya's twin minarets Wednesday, 14 Sunni mosques have been reported damaged or destroyed. In the attack Saturday in Basra, extremists detonated bombs that leveled the al-Ashra al-Mubashra mosque, a day after another was flattened in the area....
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was also blamed for Wednesday's attack, but analysts said that this time, Iraq's political and religious leaders -- including Sadr -- quickly issued a near-unanimous call for their countrymen to avoid being pulled into a cycle of sectarian revenge.
On Saturday, Sadr's voice seemed to break from the chorus. The anti-U.S. cleric and leader of the Mahdi Army militia framed the proposed pilgrimage, which is to climax in Samarra on July 6 or 7, as "a duty" to defend "our sacred shrines."
"Here is your sect calling on you," Sadr told his followers in a written statement, adding that the march should "be one of love, peace, security and construction. Go raising olive branches and wearing shrouds."
The pilgrimage also was seen as a dangerous provocation that would present the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi security forces with a major challenge: protecting the pilgrims as they walk and drive through Sunni-dominated territory to Samarra. Any attack on the marchers could spark a response by the Mahdi Army, which is feared for its reputed willingness to exact quick and indiscriminate revenge on Sunnis.
Zuhair al-Hakim, a senior official with the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the chief Shiite rival to Sadr's group, said in a statement that logistics for the pilgrimage needed to be studied. "As you know, the tribesmen in those areas had threatened that if visitors came, there would be provocations, and that could lead to violence," he said.
Yeah, but Sadr doesn't want any violence or provocation. I know because he said so.I'm sure he'd be rather receptive to a similar march of thousands of Sunnis into Basra and other parts of the Shiite south in order to protect their mosques. Because he said he's a "nationalist" first and foremost, and does not see things in sectarian terms.
One of his priorities is broaching the divide between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis. And what better way to accomplish that than a festive parade in honor of unity!