Sometimes I wonder if you could interpret everything that goes on of significance in Iraq through the lens of religion. In a solid news story Thursday, The Christian Science Monitor gives us the details on what Iraqi politicians are doing these days to appeal to their constituents:
In front of a crush of Friday worshipers in one of this city's most historic Shiite mosques, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi stoked the already strong sectarian fervor.
Sunni extremists "want to strike your religion, sect, and faith. They trespass on the shrines of our Imams," he told the rapt audience that cheered in response. "We can only apologize to our people because ... these grave and stunning acts continue to occur."
As Sunni insurgents blow up Shiite shrines and Shiite militiamen burn Sunni mosques, leaders from both sides are rushing to be seen as this country's protectors of the religious sites. Protecting the mosque now appears to be one of the few tools for politicians to gain support among a populace that has seen little progress.
The third paragraph of the story tells us a lot about the situation in Iraq, at least according to the perspective of reporter Sam Dagher. Sunnis, the minority religious group in Iraq but the group in charge under Saddam, are apparently insurgents. Shiites, who now control most of the operations of the Iraqi government, are now militiamen. Sunnis apparently have mosques that are worth targeting while Shiites have the shrines.
I kept expecting to see a pretty straightforward paragraph in the article giving a brief rundown on the very-long-running conflict between the two Islamic sects. But that was absent. Perhaps for someone well versed in Middle East politics and history this would be like giving a basic explainer on the history of the Republican and Democratic parties when writing about the Senate's failure to move forward on immigration reform Thursday? But if I were writing that story for, say, the Russian public I would certainly include some background.
As religion-fueled violence destroys Iraq, the few American reporters left in the country are forced to choose the stories they are able to report. Most of the news in American newspapers relates to the actions of the American military or how the Iraqis are responding, or say they would respond, to the various political machinations being discussed in Washington. It's refreshing to a local Iraqi political story in an American newspaper:
Over the past 30 days, six of Iraq's most important Shiite and Sunni mosques and shrines have been severely damaged in bombings. Numerous other smaller sites have been attacked as well.
... In an interview Sunday at his party's headquarters, Mr. Hakim said the government failed to act on intelligence that indicated the shrine was going to be attacked again. "There was official correspondence regarding this matter but nonetheless nothing was done to prevent the attack."
Shiite zeal in protecting sacred sites and the use of the issue to score political gains was on full display Friday during prayers at the mausoleum and mosque of Sayyed Idriss, one of the prophet's great grandchildren, in central Baghdad.
Unfortunately we're seeing fewer and fewer stories like these. Also unfortunate is the assumption that American readers know the background of the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, or on why one side would be attacking the other's shrines and mosques. But that deficiency is balanced out for readers who know the differences.