Iraq: February 6, 2004


Coalition forces have taken a hands off approach to the increasingly violent Shia politics in Baghdad and points south. There are several Shia factions that have formed armed, and unarmed, militias and are competing for the allegiance of the majority Shia population. The armed militias are left alone on the premise that they are security forces. If the militias try and use their weapons to attack other factions, the coalition forces will intervene. But the armed militia members can be quite intimidating, and they do plenty of that. Two days ago, four armed members of one of the radical Shia groups opened fire on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, whose car had stopped so he could greet supporters. Sistani escaped injury, and the attackers have not yet been identified. All religious leaders employ large numbers of bodyguards, as all apparently fear assassination by more radical rivals. 

The unarmed militias are active in "suppressing vice." This means forcing shops that sell video tapes, music and alcohol to go out of business. Bars, night clubs and other "un-Islamic" activities are also attacked. The growing Iraqi police force sometimes takes on the unarmed militias. But the Islamic radicals threaten the police, and their families, with retaliation, which has caused the police to back off.

The US is leaving it to the new Iraqi government to deal with this dispute between Iraqis with different ideas of how large a part religion should play in their lives.


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