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Deadly Bombings Unify Iraq's Shi'ite Muslims - 2004-03-03

U.S. and Iraqi officials say Tuesday's deadly bombings in Baghdad and Karbala were the work of foreign terrorists bent on igniting religious war in Iraq. But Iraqi leaders and people in the streets say that will not happen.

Still dazed by the bombing, a survivor of Tuesday's violence at Baghdad's Shi'ite shrine insisted there would be no civil strife. "We are all Iraqis," he said, "and we love our country. This will unify us."

That is what Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders are hoping. Within hours of the blast, they came together to call for calm.

Shi'ite Governing Council member Abdel Aziz Hakim says terrorists are trying to disrupt efforts to establish a democratic structure for the country.

"These attacks were the act of enemies of the Iraqi people who don't like to see stability in Iraq," he said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say foreign militants - most likely al Qaida terrorists - are trying to provoke civil war to prevent what the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, describes as Iraq's march toward democracy.

Professor Wamidh Nadhmi of Baghdad University acknowledges Iraq's history has been violent, but he says there is no tradition of civil war.

"We never had civil war between sections of the same religion or different religions," he said. "We had some sort of huge divisions among political parties. I'm not denying existence of violent political traditions in this country but we never had a violent dispute between Shia and Sunni."

Still, many Shi'ite Iraqis point to their persecution under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, who ruled the country with an iron grip for more than three decades. Their concern is to ensure their religious rights are protected by any future government - a concern addressed by the interim constitution's guarantee of religious freedom for all Iraqis.

Mr. Namidh says Tuesday's bombings also feed resentment by Iraqis who feel the coalition forces are not protecting them or allowing them to protect themselves.

Most Iraqis list security as their top priority as the post-war violence claims more victims every day. The number of private companies and individuals employing security guards is soaring.

Professor Namidh, like many other Iraqis, says it was a mistake for the U.S. coalition to totally disband the Iraqi army for fear of keeping Saddam Hussein loyalists among the officers.

"The American administration in Iraq went into a minefield by its choice; it has transferred some 400,000 people who were more or less well trained, whose trade is fighting and death, and humiliated them and dissolved them," Mr. Namidh said.

Shi'ite Governing Council Member Mowaffik al Rubaie says it is time once again for Iraqis to take charge.

"We always insisted that the best solution is that Iraqis themselves take in charge the security question. And that's what we are doing and we think we can achieve this by the end of June," he said.

Within hours after tragedy struck on Tuesday, the Governing Council announced a period of mourning and postponed the official signing of the interim constitution. But Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders together insisted the violence would not stop them from meeting the June deadline for the transfer of power to Iraqis.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi officials anticipate more violence as that date approaches.