(by Sharon Behn, WashingtonTimes.com) – The bombing of the Shi’ite Golden Mosque shrine managed to do what years of killings, kidnappings and bombings had failed to do — it brought the bitter rift between Sunnis and Shi’ites to the street level, Iraqis said yesterday.
    “Previously, when I talked to Shi’ites about bombs and so on, everyone was upset. But the reaction to the mosque war is different,” said one middle-class Iraqi who lives in Baghdad. He asked that his name not be used, fearing for his life.
    “Every Shi’ite is now saying the Sunnis deserve it — the thinking has changed since this event, and I know what I am talking about,” he said by telephone from Baghdad.
    “All three years of killing, kidnapping and bombings never managed to start a civil war, but this mosque bombing, it is the trigger for civil war,” he said. “It will get worse day by day.”
    Until now, the divide between the two groups largely has been about political power, while in local neighborhoods Shi’ites and Sunnis have continued to marry each other, work side by side and commiserate together over the violence.
    An Iraqi woman in her 60s, who also asked not to be identified, said destruction of the ancient shrine in Samarra somehow had changed the dynamic between those Iraqis who, until now, had tried to live together in peace.
    “There is a change between Shi’ites and Sunnis, and no one can stop it now. It is very bad … we tried to avoid such a thing, but now it has begun. I think this is the beginning of a civil war,” she said.
    The U.S. military played down those fears.
    “We’re not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq,” U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters yesterday.
    He said he could not confirm reports that more than 100 Sunni mosques had been attacked and dozens of people executed in the aftermath of the Golden Mosque bombing.
    Gen. Lynch said the Iraqi government extended last night’s curfew in Baghdad until 4 p.m. today, recalled all Iraqi security forces to duty and directed detailed security around shrines and mosques.
    Sunni and Shi’ite leaders were calling for calm, he said, refusing to give in to “terrorists that are intent in inflaming sectarian violence here in Iraq and across the region.”
    For the time being, said A. Heather Coyne of the United States Institute of Peace, there is still a chance that Iraq’s leaders can “call back in the dogs of war.”
    The State Department’s coordinator for Iraq policy, Ambassador James Jeffrey, said the U.S. thought the Golden Mosque attack could “be traced back to the [Abu Musab] Zarqawi al Qaeda movement,” Reuters news agency reported.
    Miss Coyne, who has just returned from three years in Iraq, said al Qaeda would fit because it was “trying to prove the experiment is a failure, keep U.S. troops tied up there and make it a battleground for [their] own apocalypse.”
    The destruction of the Golden Mosque, said Bill Vendley of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, risked aggravating differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites as far away as South Asia.
    “Old hurts can be enflamed. The Sunni-Shi’ite fault line is one that re-emerges today in places as far off as Pakistan … and the people doing this are playing on that,” said Mr. Vendley, who is based in New York but often meets with Iraqi religious leaders.
    Both Baghdad residents, who do not know each other, said the killings and chaos in the streets of the capital on Wednesday were led by the armed militia of radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Fighters dressed in black poured out of their base in Sadr City into downtown Baghdad.
    The woman, speaking on the phone from her Baghdad home late in the evening, said that only the U.S. military would be able to return some level of calm to the streets.
    “I think if there is an order from the soldiers or whoever is responsible on the American side, I think they can stop such things; I think they can. But there are a lot of people killing and dying now,” she said.

Copyright 2006 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com 


1.  As Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni leaders are working to form a national unity government, the Shiite Al-Askariya “Golden Mosque” in Samarra was bombed.  Shiites retaliated by attacking Sunnis.  What is the reaction to this violence by the Iraqi witnesses quoted for this article?

2.  According to Ms. Behn, what type of relationship did Sunnis and Shiites have overall in Iraq?

3.  How is the U.S. military responding to fears that civil war is breaking out in Iraq?

4.  Who would benefit the most from civil unrest caused by the bombing of a Shiite holy shrine?  Why?

5.  The American media is reporting that there is a likelyhood that the bombing and subsequent retaliations will lead to civil war.  Compare that reporting to the reactions of several Iraqi bloggers: 
IraqTheModel, HealingIraq and BaghdadTreasure
Do the bloggers from Iraq appear to share the same beliefs as the American media (and Iraqis quoted in the article)?



  • Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as orthodox or liberal) there are a number of denominations of Islam.
  • The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
  • Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential belief.
  • Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).
  • However, Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a).
  • Sunni Muslims are the minority in Iraq (approximately 32-35% of the population are Sunni) Of the Sunnis in Iraq, only 12-15% percent are Arabs, wile 18-20% percent are Kurds.
  • Kurds are not Arabs, but a different ethnicity.  Under Saddam Hussein, some 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed. At least 50,000 Kurds died – many were tortured and murdered by order of Saddam Hussein.
  • Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule.


For more information on the Sunni-Shi’a split, click here.
For a map of the Middle East religions, click here.

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