Thursday, March 04, 2004

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might not get his wish after all:

Shi'ite clerics joined Sunni preachers in a march of thousands of mostly black-clad men yesterday, trying to keep sectarian passions in check after a horrific attack on Shi'ite pilgrims that raised fears of civil war.

U.S. and Iraqi officials disagreed over how many people died in the Tuesday bombings in Baghdad and Karbala — the deadliest since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi Governing Council said 271 persons were killed, but U.S. officials put the toll at 117.

The attacks — at some of the holiest shrines of Shi'ite Islam and on the most sacred day in the Shi'ite calendar — threatened to turn Shi'ites against Sunnis if the bombers were found to have been Iraqi Sunni extremists.

But strife with the country's Sunni minority would hardly be in the interests of the Shi'ites, who stand on the verge of achieving their dream of real political power after generations of suppression. Civil war would threaten those dreams, and the community's influential clergy appeared eager to keep passions in check.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, said the United States has evidence that al Qaeda-linked Jordanian militant Abu Musab Zarqawi was behind the bombings.

U.S. officials said 15 persons were detained in Karbala in connection with the attacks, though none was charged. Among those detained were five Farsi speakers, a suggestion that they were Iranians.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had hoped to spark a Sunni-Shi'ite civil war by killing as many Shi'ites as possible and blaming it on the Sunni.


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