Life is coming back to normal in Baghdad and marketplaces and offices are open again after being shut for 4 days. Although there were a few security incidents today people are mostly looking at these as part of the usual daily situation and not related to the latest shrine crisis.
But, what can we learn from this lesson and how can we make benefit from it in avoiding similar problems in the future.
It's not a secret who was behind the attack on the shrine and I am sure that who did it were the Salafi/Wahabis whether Iraqi or foreigners and with external support from parties planning to disrupt the political process in Iraq.
The reason I believe it's the Salafis who did it comes from their own ideology which considers all mosques built upon tombs as places of polytheism and infidelity and thus must be destroyed. This also applies to Sunni shrines like Abu Haneefa and al-Gailani; Salafis consider the Shia and the Sufis their worst enemies and they commonly refer to them in their speech with the term "tomb worshippers" or Mushrikoon Quborioon in Arabic.
It's worth reminding that this is not the first time Salafis try to destroy the shrines in Iraq; their armies invaded Iraq back in the 19th century and burned the shrines in Kerbala and Najaf before the Ottoman empire repelled them and stopped them from reaching Baghdad where they were planning to destroy the shrines of al-Kazum, Abu Haneefa and al-Gailani (Shia, Sunni and Sufi respectively).
Followers of other sects would not dare do something like this because they fear the wrath of the imams; our culture has many stories about the supernatural powers possessed by the deceased imams. These stories planted fear in our hearts from even talking badly about them, let alone blowing up their tombs!
This leaves only one faction that justifies and pushes for destroying these tombs and this is the Salafi ideology.
Of course there are some who invest this ideology for political causes and here we come to the second beneficiary who stands behind the first beneficiary who carried out the attack for ideological reasons.
This second beneficiary is the parties who would like to see the new Iraqi state fall apart and who are scared of the idea of a democratic, stable Iraq next door as such a neighbor would transmit the democratic infection to their peoples. This includes more than one neighboring country; one provides logistics and training, the other provides media support while another one endorses the remnants of the Ba'ath regime who lost a lot of their privileges when Saddam was toppled.
Now that we have outlined the identity of the perpetrators depending on motives, interests and ideology we can move on to talk a little about the reactions to the atrocity which has a lot in common with the reactions to the Danish cartoons (I'm comparing the reactions here, not the actions that triggered them). The two reactions are similar in two aspects a) Overreaction and b) Exploiting the atrocity to serve political causes.
As a person who lives in Baghdad I've been following the situation from the early hours after the attack; on Wednesday morning I was on my way to work when I heard the news on the radio and I began watching closely to probe the feelings of the common people. People were at work as they always are, clerks behind their desks, grocers looking after their goods and municipal workers picking trash from the streets and I haven't noticed any unusual feelings among the people I came in contact with. In general life was normal until noon in the Shia majority district of Baghdad and there were absolutely no signs of a crisis of any sort. But on my way home I saw the men in black take to the streets after Ayatollah Sistani issued his fatwa (I wish my Shia brothers bear with me and read to the end).
Ayatollah Sistani issued a fatwa on Wednesday that sounded peaceful and normal from the first look but if you look closer at each word you will find that the "safety valve" became the igniter this time.
Two years ago the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf was attacked and although this is the holiest shrine for Shia Muslims the incident wasn't met with that much angry reactions instead we heard soothing statements like "these are mere stones and we can rebuild them and make them even better than before".
This time things were different because the political situation is different; the Ayatollah called for nationwide protests (and not to attack Sunni mosques) and a week of mourning. Now let's examine the part that said "do not attack Sunni mosques"…the sentence openly accuses the Sunni of being behind the attack or why would their mosques be mentioned in the first place?
In the government statements the term "Takfiri terrorists/Saddami Ba'athists" is the one commonly used but in the Ayatollah's fatwa this was replaced by "Sunni".
This fatwa which is sugar-coated with tolerance and restraint is actually pointing at the perpetrator that we-should-not-punish-because-we-are-merciful.
So…the protests were not spontaneous like clerics want us to think; in fact the only spontaneous protest was the one in Samarra itself!
I live here and I've seen the whole thing. The demonstrations in Baghdad began after the fatwa and I saw how shop keepers unwillingly closed their shops when the men in black with their arms and loudspeakers ordered them to do so "in the name of the Hawza" and I saw the sad look on the faces of people abandoning their only source of income for a time that could go indefinitely.
One might ask why would Iraqis obey such orders?
I say, Imagine yourself standing in front of your shop watching the police retreat from the street while angry men with arms come and order you to leave your shop and join the "spontaneous protests"!
Believe me you will find no other choice but to join the mob or face the risk of being considered an infidel traitor.
I'd also like to point out the provoking language that was used in the calls for many protests. In one example I heard in person, the guy holding the mic said "today they attacked your Imam's shrine and tomorrow they will take your women, so rise up".
The reactions and protests were far from spontaneous like clerics claim they were. The protests were organized and under supervision of commanders who have clear goals and those commanders were intent on provoking a reaction that carries clear signs to the Sunni, secular and moderate parties that succeeded in applying substantial pressure on the UIA and won the US on their side.
So those radical parties were looking for a justification for a planned crisis to bring back to attention the centuries-long suffering of the Shia and they wanted to gain more support for what they consider legitimate political demands from giving the impression that they are the only targets for terrorism.
So, this was planned to prepare the atmosphere for putting the blame on others and sending a message to the other parties that "we cannot contain the anger of the street forever and you have to listen to us and answer our demands if you want us to prevent a catastrophe".
However, it seems there are also some positive outcomes from this incident and its aftermath; the first one in my opinion was the performance of the Iraqi army which had a good role in restoring order in many places. Actually the past few days showed that our new army is more competent than we were thinking.
But the latest events have also showed the brittle structure of the interior ministry and its forces that retreated before the march of the angry mobs (if not joined them in some cases) and I think the statements that came from the meetings of our politicians pointed this out so clearly when Sunni politicians said they wanted the army to replace the police and police commandos in their regions and this indicates growing trust between the people and the army.
The other positive side is represented by the line we've seen drawn between clerics and politicians.
In spite of the attempts of clerics to look like as if they were the defenders of national unity with all their meetings, joint prayers and hugs, the political leaderships got a sense of their growing danger and the meeting at Jafari's home (which al-Hakeem didn't attend) showed that the government is keen to keep the country intact and the government systems as functional as possible to contain the crisis. This meeting indicates that politicians have realized that those clerics whether Sunni or Shia are the origin of the problem and are ready to coup on even their political allies which made the politicians more aware of the danger imposed by clerics on the project of building a state ruled by the law.
Clerics will not stop and they will carry on with their plans and I suspect they will launch the next phase of their plan soon after they received instructions from Syria (the Muslim scholars) and from Iran (the Sadrists).
The objective of the second phase will to move the conflict from one on the streets to a conflict with America. That’s not my personal opinion, but it's what clerics themselves are saying including Muqtada who returned from Qum in Iran to organize a joint Sunni-Shia demonstration against the occupation!!
Now the government has rise to the level of the challenge and proceed to take the most important and critical step and disband religious militias of all sorts and limit the influence of clerics-of any sect-in the decision-making process.
I think this is the best time for the new government to tackle this issue as the government now has all the factors that make such a move legitimate and necessary.