Notes on the Ashura Attacks

Some interesting points being made around the Web about the Ashura bombings yesterday in Karbala and Baghdad:

  • CNN puts the death toll at “at least 117”, with hundreds more wounded. The New York Times cites mortality figures ranging from 143 to “as high as 170”.
  • Josh Marshall points out that, since the population of Iraq is less than one-tenth that of the U.S., an attack that kills 170 people in one day feels to Iraqis kind of like “what it would be like to have around 2000 people killed in one day in this country. And, of course, that’s not that different from the 3000 who were killed here on September 11th.”
  • Juan Cole reminds us of the significance of Ashura in the Shia religious calendar: “For Shiites, Tuesday was analogous to Good Friday. And Karbala and Kazimiyah for them are like Rome and Jerusalem. One can only imagine the psychological impact of, God forbid, a huge truck bombing at the Vatican on Good Friday.”
  • Meanwhile, in the city of Quetta in Pakistan, 40 or more Shiite worshippers were also killed, this time by gunmen. The New York Times article on the Iraq bombings cites an unnamed U.S. intelligence official claiming “no indication of any link” between the two attacks.
  • U.S. government officials, including Vice President Cheney, are on record fingering Abu Mussab al Zarqawi as the prime suspect in the Iraq bombings. This is mainly due to the recent seizure of what is purported to be a letter from Zarqawi in which he describes a strategy of destabilizing Iraq by fomenting civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. If that is truly his strategy, this would certainly seem to be consistent with it. However, there’s been a lot of doubt about the validity of the “Zarqawi letter” up to now, mainly because it seems to go out of its way to make points that confirm that the Bush Administration’s plan in Iraq is working much more effectively than other indicators suggest; which is awfully convenient, considering that there’s no proof of the validity of the letter other than the word of the Administration. And it’s not like Zarqawi is the only one who would benefit from stirring up a hornet’s nest in Iraq.
  • Either way, though, the good news is that there are indicators that the plan may be backfiring — Juan Cole reports that Sunnis are actually giving blood to help the wounded Shiites, in the name of Iraqi unity.

Watch this story. Lots of threads from various parts of the Iraq crisis are coming together within it.