If you thought Iraq was interesting up until now, hold onto your hats because it's about to get a LOT more interesting. CNN has the bloody details:
A curfew and weapons ban was in effect and Shiite pilgrims were evacuated from the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, where fighting has killed up to 50 people and wounded 247 others, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Tuesday.
The clashes erupted Monday evening as police and gunmen exchanged fire for two hours, according to a top Interior Ministry official. Another ministry official said it appeared the fighting was between two Shiite militias.
Authorities said that the violence later spread to Baghdad, where Mehdi Army fighters torched six offices belonging to the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.
The attacks were accompanied by fighting between the Mehdi Army and Badr Organization. In Sadr City, where two of the political offices were burned, the Iraqi army called in reinforcements and air support while battling the Mehdi Army, an Interior Ministry official said.
The Mehdi Army also set fire to the Dawa Party's office in Kadhimiya, an Interior Ministry official said. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is a member of the Dawa Party.
This violence comes on the heels of the recent assassinations of two Iraqi governors who were aligned with the Badr Brigades, an Iranian- and American-sponsored fundamentalist militia that has seized control of the Iraqi police and military. The Badr Brigades are the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) which is a major partner in Maliki's government and a rival of the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army.
An all-out war between these two rival Shiite groups would dwarf anything we have seen up until now in Iraq. US forces would likely be drawn into this intra-Shiite battle on the side of the Badr Brigades and (ironically) the Iranian agents who are supporting them in Iraq. Just today, George Bush promised the American people that we could look forward to seeing our troops battling against Iranian-supported militias in Iraq:
"I have authorised our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities," he said.
Of course, the Iranians themselves have been betting on all horses in this race by supplying both sides with weapons, financing and training. There have also been reports of Mahdi Army fighters traveling to Lebanon to train with Hezbollah, and Hezbollah fighters in Iraq assisting the Badr Brigades.
It'll be interesting to see how the White House spins this emerging crisis. I suppose they will claim that is all more evidence of the "bottom up" reconciliation that is taking place in Iraq. The only thing that is "bottom up" right now are the champagne glasses of the Iranian clerics who are celebrating their newfound influence in Iraq that has helped to turn that country into a disastrous quagmire for America.
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