A young man (sources disagree about his age; al-Nahrayn, an independent Iraqi news agency, says he is 16, while many English-language sources report that he is 19) attempted to carry out a kamikaze bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday. Carrying an ID, reported to be fake, with the name "Muhammad Husayn Jawdat," he targeted a Turkmen Shi'i Islamic center (husayniyya), named "Zahra" according to the Gulf Times. Before he could detonate his kamikaze-suicide bomb belt, the young man was tackled, bound, and pinned to the ground until the belt could be undone. It is uncertain what will happen to the young man. Photographs show him to be quite young, at least in appearance, and very thin (notice his ribs).
Over 290 Iraqi civilians have been killed in a series of kamikaze and vehicle bombings in April, including over 100 Iraqi and Iranian (80) Shi'is in coordinated attacks on Shi'i shrines and religious centers. Ten Iraqi police were killed in a truck bombing in Kirkuk two weeks ago. Some commentators say that the recent upswing in attacks on Iraqi Shi'is may show regrouping by radical Salafi jihadi groups operating in the country, including the late Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (now led by Abu Ayyub al-Masri) and the Islamic State of Iraq, a loose umbrella for several Salafi jihadi groups whose alleged leader, "Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi," was reportedly captured by Iraqi security forces this week.
Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, rivals al-Qa'ida "Central" chief Usama bin Laden in popularity on the major Salafi Sunni jihadi online discussion forums, and it has been argued that the former unleashed a new form of hyper-violent jihadism driven by extreme takfir, or the declaration of other Muslims who disagree with one's ideology and views to be apostates. Al-Zarqawi's use of takfir was not solely or even initially used against Iraqi Shi'i Muslims, whom Salafis view as having deviated from "orthodox" Islam due to their peculiar theological positions and ritual practices, which include the visitation of shrines with the belief that praying to their historical (and in one case, "occulted" or "hidden" in a messianic way) leaders, the Imams, can intercede for them with God (a belief which to many Muslims seems to contradict the concept of Tawhid, the absolute unity of God, which is one of the foundations of Islamic theology. Shi'is have developed elaborate reasoning as to why this is allowed.) He also declared the Arab governments to be apostate regimes, murdering thousands of Sunni Muslims between 2003-2006, and his group's first major attack was the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad on August 3, 2003.
Al-Zarqawi wrote a crazed letter in 2005 to AQ Central chief ideologue Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri explaining his plan to foment ethno-sectarian civil war in Iraq. The key was to target the country's Shi'i Muslims because, (A) they presented "a true threat" because they pretended to be against the U.S. and British occupation, but really were its allies, and (B) if Iraqi Shi'is could be provoked into overreacting, they would create the civil war that would then benefit al-Zarqawi and ultimately AQ Central by creating a "failed state" in which AQ could operate freely. An English translation and the original Arabic text can be viewed below.
Zarqawi Letter to Zawahiri
Al-Zarqawi had a falling out with his main religious teacher, the Jordanian jihadi scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is also a native of the industrial city of al-Zarqa on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital of 'Amman. While he views Shi'is as deviants, al-Maqdisi was opposed to his former student's targeting of Iraqi civilians, both Shi'i and Sunni. Al-Zawahiri was also opposed to this, though on pragmatic grounds: it was bad public relations, though he also argued that the Shi'i laity, as opposed to their religious scholars ('ulama) were largely ignorant and could therefore not be held accountable for their heresy.
In a recent New York Times article, Princeton Near Eastern and religious studies professor Bernard Haykel, a noted expert in on Salafi Muslims, both the non-violent ones (the majority) and the violent jihadis, said, “For several decades, there has been a dynamic at work in the radical Sunni Islamist community where each new generation becomes less principled, less learned, more radical, and more violent than the one before it."
Al-Zarqawi, with the help of Shi'i militias and death squads, was successful in creating an Iraqi civil war that raged for much of 2005-2006. The major catalyst was the February 2006 bombing of the Shi'i shrine of al-'Askariyya in Samarra, after which Shi'i gunmen murdered random Sunnis on the streets and burned Sunni mosques, after murdering their imams (directors and prayer leaders). Sunni insurgent and terrorist groups retaliated with car and kamikaze bomb attacks on Shi'i civilians and militias.
The murder of Iraqi Arab Sunnis by Shi'i militias, however, did not begin in February 2006. By the summer of 2005, hundreds of Iraqi Arab Sunnis were turning up murdered on city streets, the victims of hit squads from the Arab Shi'i-deominated security forces, which were packed with members of the large Shi'i militias, namely the Badr Corps of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Mahdi Army of the Sadr Movement. Iraqi civilians were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered for having "Sunni" names like 'Umar.
A video still of one of several coordinated bombings and grenade attacks in February 2004 in Karbala during the annual Shi'i religious mourning ceremonies of 'Ashura, which commemorate the martyrdom of the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn bin 'Ali at Karbala. That year, al-Zarqawi's organization, then named Tawhid wa'l Jihad (Absolute Unity [of God] and Struggle) also carried out twin kamikaze bombings at the Shi'i shrine of Kadhimayn in Baghdad.
Both Sunni insurgents, foreign and Iraqi (and many tacitly supported/not-condemned by the region's corrupt Sunni, nominally in most cases, autocrats), and Arab Iraqi Shi'i militias, many of them aided, armed, and urged on by Iranian agents from the Revolutionary Guard Corps' foreign operations unit, the Quds Force. As in Lebanon, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has spread its virulent brand of Salafism throughout the Muslim world, supported by other Arab Sunni autocracies, such as Jordan and Egypt, and the "Islamic Republic" (so-called) of Iran, which seeks to become a regional hegemon as it did in the first few years following the Iranian Revolution led by the "imam," Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni, have contributed to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq as they use the country as yet another stage for their proxy war. Unfortunately, many Iraqi factions have willingly and/or foolishly allowed themselves to become pieces in this war.