"Sectarian" bloodshed, blah, blah, blah

helicopter 01I am sorry to sound like a broken record and, believe me, I realize that I could make the following comments about dozens of other MSM reports from Iraq day after day after day. But the Operation Swarmer story is one of today's top stories in newspapers and broadcast media. So here I go again. You can see, with merely one glance at the top of this Los Angeles Times report, that the "sectarian" nature of this conflict remains at the heart of the story.

BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi forces began a major helicopter and ground attack Thursday on an insurgent stronghold near Samarra, the Sunni Arab dominated city where the bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine last month set off waves of sectarian bloodshed across the country.

The assault was underway 80 miles north of Baghdad as the parliament elected three months ago held its inaugural session here amid extraordinary security and sharp exchanges that reflected Iraq's deepening divisions.

And on and on and on, from "Sunni-led insurgency" to "full-scale sectarian conflict" to the dizzying reference to the urgency of bringing "minority Sunni representatives into a broad coalition government along with majority Shiites, ethnic Kurds and secular-minded parties."

There are religious elements to all of that. But what do the words mean? Yes, I know that, to some degree, the leaders of these factions want political power and oil money. I know all of that. I know that some of the divisions are tribal (at least, I think I know that). But it still seems to me that American newspaper readers, in an era in which we are trying to understand why some (repeat some) Islam leaders want to destroy the West or absorb it, would like to know why so many Arab Muslims want to kill each other, as well. We are being told why they hate us and why they hate Israel. Could someone please explain to us, in language we can understand, why they also want to kill each other?

This is an important question and it leads to others. Is political unity impossible if the ultimate goal is a theocracy built on doctrinal unity? Is a secular compromise possible if Allah casts a final "no" vote?

Adnan Pachachi, at 83 the oldest member of parliament, underscored the urgency of the task in unusually blunt remarks to his colleagues after he had been appointed temporary speaker.

"The country is going through dangerous times ... and the perils come from every direction," he said during the nationally televised session. "We have to prove to the world that there will not be civil war among our people. The danger is still there, and our enemies are ready for us.

"We're still at the beginning of the road to democracy," he added, "and we're stumbling."

OK, is this Pachachi fellow Sunni, Shiite, Christian or secular? That matters, right?

Yes, it does matter.

Tension between the Shiites, who dominate the interim government, and other blocs surfaced in parliament when Pachachi, a secular Sunni, said in his speech that Cabinet ministers should not be chosen on a sectarian basis.

He was cut off by Abdelaziz Hakim, head of the Shiite bloc's largest party. Sitting in the front row in black robes and a turban, he said: "This is the first session. We shouldn't go into all these details."

So let's start with a basic question: Why is the Sunni sect symbolized by the color green and the Shiites by the color black?

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