26 February 2006

Edge of the Sword

In Christendom it is now Transfiguration Sunday, five days after the Golden Dome of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra was heavily damaged by a gang of bombers. The BBC reports that no organization has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Iraq is balanced on the edge of a sword. If it loses its balance or falls apart, the descent into the chaos of a civil war like that which plagued Lebanon for 15 years will be swift and bloody. But there are signs of hope. The Iraqi government has instituted a curfew, and both Shiite and Sunni religious leaders have united in their prohibition of further violence.

There is also a sign of despair. It is not that the joint declaration from the Shiite and Sunni leaders calls for the US to leave Iraq on a specified timetable. It is that they have made no such call for the exit of al-Qaeda, the organization that probably carried out the bombing of the Golden Dome. It is al-Qaeda that has the greatest interest in civil war in Iraq. They would exploit it by providing soldiers for one of the Sunni factions, hoping to achieve dominance in the Sunni provinces. The attack is certainly in line with their recent behavior. "Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" (as they call themselves) have a history of reaching too far in their use of violence.

Let us look for a Transfiguration in Iraq. Yes, surely the Western troops must leave when the time is ripe. But just as surely, the time is now ripe for the Iraqis themselves to show al-Qaeda the door. It should be clear enough from this incident that al-Qaeda is not the friend of anyone in Iraq, Shia or Sunni, and that further toleration of their presence will only bring more blood, destruction, and desecration.

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