03 March 2004
Odd, isn't it? There never has been a civil war in Iraq. I have never heard a single word of animosity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq.
Al-Qa'ida has never uttered a threat against Shias - even though al-Qa'ida is a Sunni-only organisation. Yet for weeks, the American occupation authorities have been warning us about civil war, have even produced a letter said to have been written by an al-Qa'ida operative, advocating a Sunni-Shia conflict. Normally sane journalists have enthusiastically taken up this theme. Civil war.
Somehow I don't believe it. No, I don't believe the Americans were behind yesterday's carnage despite the screams of accusation by the Iraqi survivors yesterday. But I do worry about the Iraqi exile groups who think that their own actions might produce what the Americans want: a fear of civil war so intense that Iraqis will go along with any plan the United States produces for Mesopotamia.
I think of the French OAS in Algeria in 1962, setting off bombs among France's Muslim Algerian community. I recall the desperate efforts of the French authorities to set Algerian Muslim against Algerian Muslim which led to half a million dead souls.
And I'm afraid I also think of Ireland and the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974, which, as the years go by, appear to have an ever closer link, via Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries, to elements of British military security.
But the bombs in Karbala and Baghdad were clearly co-ordinated. The same brain worked behind them. Was it a Sunni brain? When the occupation authorities' spokesman suggested yesterday that it was the work of al-Qa'ida, he must have known what he was saying: that al-Qa'ida is a Sunni movement, that the victims were Shias.
It's not that I believe al-Qa'ida incapable of such a bloodbath. But I ask myself why the Americans are rubbing this Sunni-Shia thing so hard. Let's turn the glass round the other way. If a violent Sunni movement wished to evict the Americans from Iraq - and there is indeed a resistance movement fighting very cruelly to do just that - why would it want to turn the Shia population of Iraq, 60 per cent of Iraqis, against them? The last thing such a resistance would want is to have the majority of Iraqis against it.
So what about al-Qa'ida? Repeatedly, the Americans have told us that the suicide bombers were "foreigners". And so they may be. But can we have some identities, nationalities? The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has talked of the hundreds of "foreign" fighters crossing Saudi Arabia's "porous" borders.
The US press have dutifully repeated this. The Iraqi police keep announcing that they have found the bombers' passports, so can we have the numbers?
We are entering a dark and sinister period of Iraqi history. But an occupation authority which should regard civil war as the last prospect it ever wants to contemplate, keeps shouting "civil war" in our ears and I worry about that. Especially when the bombs make it real.