Quagmire is Understated

How the US is doing Iran’s killing in Iraq
By Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily

NAJAF, Iraq – New evidence is emerging on the ground of an Iranian hand in growing violence within Iraq, but not necessarily as the US claims Tehran is involved, that is, by providing arms to Shi’ite Muslim militants.

The massacre in Najaf last month indicates that Iran could be working through the Iraqi government, local leaders in Najaf say. The killing of 263 people in Najaf by Iraqi and US forces on January 29 provoked outrage and vows of revenge among residents in and around the sacred Shi’ite city in the south. The killings have deepened a split among Shi’ites.

Iran is predominantly Shi’ite, one of the two main groupings within Islam along with the Sunnis. Iraq has for the first time a Shi’ite-dominated government, comprising groups that have been openly supportive of Iran.

The people killed in Najaf were mostly Shi’ites from the Hawatim tribe that opposes the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq as well as the Da’wa Party. These two pro-Iranian groups control the local government in Najaf and the central government in Baghdad.

The Najaf attack has provoked strong reactions among members of the Hawatim tribe and among other Shi’ite groups who are not loyal to Iran – and who became the target in those killings.

An attack on a local tribal leader led to an assault on members of the tribe by US, British and Iraqi forces. The tribe was described by government officials as a “messianic cult”.

Abid Ali, who witnessed the Najaf fighting, said a procession of about 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe had arrived in the Zarqa area near Najaf to celebrate the Ashura festival. After a confrontation over the procession, Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint shot dead Hajj Sa’ad Sa’ad Nayif al-Hatemi, chief of the tribe, as he and his wife sat in their car. Members of the tribe then attacked the checkpoint to avenge the death of their chief.

“It was after this that the Iraqi army called in the Americans, and the planes began bombing civilians,” Ali said. “It was a massacre. Now I believe internal Shi’ite fighting has entered a very dangerous phase.”

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