Civil war spreads across Iraq as bomb at Shia mosque kills 59
By Patrick Cockburn in Iraq
Independent" -- -- A civil war between Sunni and Shia
Muslims is spreading rapidly through central Iraq, with each
community seeking revenge for the latest massacre. Yesterday a
suicide bomber driving a van packed with explosives blew himself up
outside the golden-domed mosque in Kufa, killing at least 59 and
injuring more than 130 Shia.
In the past 10 days, while the world has been absorbed by the war in
Lebanon, sectarian massacres have started to take place on an almost
daily basis, leading observers to fear a level of killing
approaching that of Rwanda immediately before the genocide of 1994.
On a single spot on the west bank of the Tigris river in north
Baghdad, between 10 and 12 bodies have been drifting ashore every
In Kufa, a city on the Euphrates 90 miles south of Baghdad, the
suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a dusty square 100 yards from
a Shia shrine at 7.30am. He knew that poor day-labourers gathered
there looking for work. He reportedly said: "I need labourers" and
they climbed into his van, which exploded a few moments later,
killing them and other workers near by. "Four of my cousins were
killed," said Nasir Feisal, who survived the blast. "They were
standing beside the van. Their bodies were scattered far apart by
The severe escalation in sectarian killings started nine days ago
when black-clad Shia militiamen sealed off the largely Sunni
al-Jihad district in west Baghdad and slaughtered every Sunni they
identified, killing more than 40 of them after glancing at their
identity cards. Since then there has been a tit-for-tat massacre
almost every day.
On Monday, gunmen - almost certainly Sunni - first attacked Shia
mourners at a funeral near Mahmoudiya, a market town 20 miles south
of Baghdad. They then shot another 50 people in the local market.
The failure of the newly formed government of Nouri al-Maliki to
stop the mass killings has rapidly discredited it. The Shia and
Sunni militias - in the latter case the insurgents fighting the
Americans - are becoming stronger as people look to them for
protection. After the explosion in Kufa angry crowds hurled stones
at the police demanding that the militiamen of the Mehdi Army,
followers of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, take over
security in the city. Others chanted at the police - who began to
fire in the air to disperse them - "you are traitors!" and accused
them of being "American agents".
In much of Baghdad the militias have taken over and are killing or
driving out the minority community. It has become very easy to be
killed anywhere in central Iraq - where a third of the 27 million
population lives - through belonging to the wrong sect. Many people
carry two sets of identity papers, one forged at a cost of about $60
(£30), so they can claim to be a Sunni at Sunni checkpoints and Shia
at Shia checkpoints.
Even this may not be enough to ensure survival. Aware of the number
of forged identity papers being used, Mehdi Army checkpoints in the
largely Shia Shu'ala district in west Baghdad have started to ask
drivers questions about Shia theology which a Sunni would be unable
to answer. One man, a Shia, passed the test but was still executed -
because he was driving a car with number plates from Anbar, a wholly
While the White House and Downing Street still refuse to use the
phrase "civil war", Iraqis in the centre of the country have no
doubt what is happening. Baghdad's mortuary alone received 1,595
bodies in June, and it has got worse since then.
Many people are fleeing. One day early this month, at the al-Salhai
bus station in central Baghdad, there were 23 buses, each carrying
49 people, and 30 four-wheel drive vehicles departing for Syria with
refugees. Access to Jordan has become more difficult, with many
Iraqis turned back at the border.
All buses on routes to these countries have Sunni drivers nowadays,
after five Shia drivers were killed as "spies" while driving through
the Sunni heartlands of western Iraq on the way to Jordan and Syria.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited