Odd, isn't it? There never has been a civil war in Iraq. I have never heard a single word of animosity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. Al-Qaida has never uttered a threat against Shias -- even though al-Qaida is a Sunni-only organization. Yet for weeks, the American occupation authorities have been warning us about civil war, have even produced a letter said to have been written by an al-Qaida operative, advocating a Sunni-Shia conflict. Normally sane journalists enthusiastically have taken up this theme. Civil war.
Somehow I don't believe it.
No, I don't believe the Americans were behind Tuesday's carnage in Baghdad and Karbala, despite the screams of accusation by the Iraqi survivors. But I do worry about the Iraqi exile groups who think that their own actions might produce what the Americans want: a fear of civil war so intense that Iraqis will go along with any plan the United States produces for Mesopotamia.
I think of the French OAS in Algeria in 1962, setting off bombs among France's Muslim Algerian community. I recall the desperate efforts of the French authorities to set Algerian Muslim against Algerian Muslim -- the FLN against the ALN -- which led to half a million dead souls.
And I'm afraid I also think of Ireland and the bombings in Dublin, Monaghan and Dundalk in 1974, which, as the years go by, appear to have an ever-closer link, via Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries, to elements of British military security men. Pakistan has a history of sectarian conflict -- for which the British, historically, are not blameless -- so the slaughter in Quetta may well be unconnected with Iraq.
But the bombs in Karbala and Baghdad clearly were coordinated. The same brain worked behind them. Was it a Sunni brain? When the occupation authorities' spokesman suggested it was the work of al-Qaida, he must have known what he was saying: that al-Qaida is a Sunni movement, that the victims were Shias. It's not that I believe al-Qaida incapable of such a bloodbath. But I ask myself why the Americans are rubbing this Sunni-Shia thing so hard, why they want to keep on emphasizing the danger of civil war.
Let's turn the glass around the other way. If a violent Sunni movement wanted to evict the Americans from Iraq -- and there is indeed a resistance movement that is fighting very cruelly to do just that -- why would it want to turn the Shia population of Iraq, 60 percent of Iraqis, against them?
The last thing such a resistance would want is to have the majority of Iraqis against it while fighting the world's only superpower. So what about al-Qaida? The Americans and the new American-trained Iraqi police force have told us repeatedly that the suicide bombers were "foreigners."
And so they may be. But can we have some real names, identities and nationalities?
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has talked of the hundreds of "foreign" fighters flooding across Saudi Arabia's "porous" borders. The U.S. media dutifully have repeated all of this. But who are the bombers? Where are the identities? Which countries do they come from?
And since the Iraqi police keep announcing that they have found the passports of the bombers, can we have the passport numbers?
We are entering a dark and sinister period of Iraqi history, in which dark and sinister events will take place. But an occupation authority that should regard civil war as the last prospect to contemplate, keeps shouting "civil war" in our ears and I worry about that.
Especially when the bombs make it real.
Robert Fisk writes for The Independent of Great Britain.
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