Sectarian Violence Takes High Toll in Iraq

Officials in Iraq say at least 110 people have been killed, and more than 160 Sunni mosques have been attacked since this week's bombing of a Shiite shrine. Borzou Daragahi, reporting from Baghdad for the Los Angeles Times, discusses the violence with Alex Chadwick.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Iraq, the situation worsened dramatically today, and it was already bad enough. Yesterday there was a bombing at the Holy Shiite Shrine in Samarra. Since then more than 130 people have been killed in sectarian violence, including dozens who joined in demonstrations against violence. Most of the deaths have been Sunnis. They've taken place in and around the cities of Baghdad and Basra. Iraq has cancelled all leave for police and army units in efforts to restore some order to the nation.

Borzou Daragahi is acting Baghdad Bureau Chief of the Los Angeles Times. He joins us now from Baghdad. Borzou, welcome back to the program. The big question here is whether the worst fears about Iraq, that Sectarian conflicts could escalate into real civil war, that that may have come true. Are we there? Is that what you're writing about today?

Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Baghdad Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): If you look at it purely in terms of body count, I think that there's many conflicts that have had less bloodshed and been called civil wars. But at this point it's still hard to call it a civil war because you don't have that kind of traditional battle line drawn.

Most of the stuff that happens is kind of unauthorized. So it might be that what we're talking about is a new kind of civil war.

CHADWICK: Well, the pictures that I see on television are pretty horrific. The number of Sunni mosques attacked in the last day, at least 90 by some wire reports that I see. It sounds pretty desperate.

Mr. DARAGAHI: Absolutely. The situation is very, very grim and I don't want to confuse anyone with the little question of semantics, is it a civil war or is it something else. I would say that in the three years that I've been coming in and out of Iraq it's been probably the nadir as far the, maybe not in terms of our own personal security situation, we've had worse and bigger scares, but in terms of just the political situation, and the mood on the streets, the sense of dread among ordinary Iraqi people. Never in my time here have I heard the words civil war uttered so much as I have over the last couple days.

CHADWICK: Two things I see from Sunni and Shiite leaders. They call for calm but many of them also are blaming the U.S. for this. I don't understand that.

Mr. DARAGAHI: The view is among many Iraqi's that, you know, contrary to what some people believe, there hasn't been a lot of, you know, harsh sectarian strife in Iraq over the last few hundred years. There's not like this ancient animosity between Shiites and Sunni's in Iraq. There's a perception that with the US invasion all of a sudden all these troubles came up. The US was the one who opened up the borders and let the terrorists in. The US was the one who set up a governing council in the first place that was apportioned based on ethnic identity and religious identity instead of based on, you know, qualifications.

CHADWICK: Borzou, the day is about done there now. You've seen this reaction to the events of yesterday, this blowing up of the Shiite Shrine in Samarra. What are you really expecting for tomorrow?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Tomorrow is Friday prayers. It's going to be really interesting to see what happens tomorrow. Some of the hotheaded Shiites have been calling upon their followers to go to Samarra, to go to the site of the destroyed shrine and to pray there, to hold Friday prayer there. That might be considered a rather provocative act and that might be considered a rather difficult act, given the fact that there's checkpoints along many roads. You can't even get from one Baghdad neighborhood to another now. You know, this is an attempt to prevent roving bands of militias from wandering off into other people's neighborhoods and taking revenge or causing trouble. The politicians are talking about taking security measures. They're making a lot of speeches.

I think that, sadly, one of the things that this whole thing has demonstrated is possibly the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi political leaders. They can talk and talk and talk, but it seems that people don't really heed their words, and that's what Iraqi's tell us. That is a very ominous development too, that there's a kind of a big security vacuum and there's also a vacuum in terms of moral authority.

CHADWICK: Borzou Daragahi for the Los Angeles Times in Baghdad. Borzou, thank you again.

Mr. DARAGAHI: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

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