August 31, 2005
The Bridge Stampede: Iraq, Chaos and Security
The deadly accident today in Iraq, where several hundreds (and indeed perhaps near a thousand) pilgrims were killed in a stampede over a bridge over the Tigris calls for some reflexion and comment. (See The Financial Times Up to 700 Iraqis feared dead in bridge stampede
Well nigh a thousand dead. Certainly it is rightly the prime lead on the Arab Sats (excuding CNBC which weirdly is trying to reproduce American dot com day-trader obsessiveness over the Saudi stock market) and the tragedy, the sheer pathos of the event - a stampede based on a false (or who knows, perhaps not....) rumour of a suicide bomber that ends up killing far more than any single suicide bomber (ex of course a truck or car bomber) might.
(As an aside, does that ridiculous Fox News call these Iraqi/Arab on Iraqi bombers 'homocide bombers' in its continued flaunting of absolute illiteracy?)
Leaving pathos aside, the article linked asks relevant questions:
(i) Will this event, triggered it appears in part by the very attacks on Shia pilgrims including one mortar attack earlier that killed a 'mere' 7 people, tip the balance toward ever more open ethnic strife and reprisals?
(ii) Will this event damage the constitutional process and prospects (although I myself tend to view the constitution now as something of a joke, a sideshow to the underlying, slowly brewing civil war)?
(iii) A question of my own, based on what I saw on the Arab Sats: What impact on the US Occupation forces? I note the Sats carried interviews of an Iraqi General and some Shia attendees who placed some portion of the blame on US forces having blocked off a portion of the route and bridge, causing congestion. Whether this is factual, if so why, and whate role this might have played is secondary to the issue of what has long been a widespread feeling among Iraqis - that in general US forces place their well being a distant third to US forces well being. Fair or not, it is a negative image that has bred and will continue to breed resentment even among the anti-Jihadi and anti-Insurgents.
This aside, two notes from the FT article that suggest the train of civil war left the station, rounded the bend and is coming steaming back through again:
Some Shia are treating the incident as though it were an insurgent attack, with one radio commentator placing responsibility on Iraqis ''who practice terrorism those who are silent about terrorism'' an apparent reference to Sunni communities accused of harbouring guerillas.
Sunni Arab, for their part, have in recent days accused the security forces, dominated by Shia political parties, of carrying out assassinations against their co-religionists.
Hello, my 1970s Lebanon.
Further to that observation, sadly while at first light the crowd's behaviour may seem irrational and overdone, sadly the fear and possible rumour (or again, perhaps even fact) of a suidice bomber was well-founded. That is Iraq.
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They held strong after the massive bombings last year, and just recently Sistani told them to stand by the Sunni so that the Sunni would stand by them in the future. To my mind, it's going to be fraught, but they'll hold.
Posted by: yinshuisiyuan at August 31, 2005 06:25 PM
Here is a freaky photo someone on LiveJournal posted of the shoes people took off before crossing the bridge...although not a graphic image of death, still disturbing to look at.
Posted by: Eva Luna at August 31, 2005 08:55 PM
NPR is reporting as unconfirmed rumors that some pilgrims might have eaten poisoned food. What do the Arabic news sources make of this?
Posted by: Jackmormon at August 31, 2005 11:01 PM
Posted by: unrelated at September 1, 2005 01:22 AM
Well, I am not a media critic so I will not try to characterise Arabic sources generally - I consume for my business purposes - but the Arab Sats have merely mentioned it in passing in the context of 25 dead from food posoining.
Given poor sanitary conditions, this is something of a footnote.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 1, 2005 10:39 AM
As for the situation holding, I disagree. These pressures are cumulative, and it is the "marginal" actor the crosses over that drives events in a situation where general authority lacks.
Already one is seeing that dynamic emerge with slowly, slowly escalating tit for tat. As there is zero substantial countervailing forces leading to calm, Sistani is merely a damper, not a dam.
I note I made these arguments as far back as 2003 - the logic proved spot on, despite even people like Cole saying Civil War was not likely. It's not the reasonable who are in the drivers seat now.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 1, 2005 10:43 AM