Four men have been arrested in connection with Friday's car bomb blast in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf which killed at least 95 people.
The arrests were announced as crowds gathered at the scene of the explosion to prepare for the funerals of many of the victims.
Two of the suspects were said to be members of the former Iraqi regime from Basra, while the others were non-Iraqi Arabs who subscribed to the puritanical Wahhabi Muslim faith.
Is Iraq descending into religious strife? Or are loyalist forces trying to destroy the peace? Can stability be brought to Iraq?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
The religious factions within Iraq have lived peacefully together before. There were times before Saddam Hussein when Shiites and Sunni lived peacefully together, and I know both Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis who respect and revere each other and each others beliefs as much as their own. This situation is fixable, but the US and British need to get more involved. They need to protect religious shrines of both sects, and probably most importantly, they need to ensure al-Qaeda don't get in to Iraq. The fact that 2 Saudi men were caught in connection with the Najaf bombing shows that al-Qaeda is probably already active in Iraq. 2 members of the old Ba'athist regime being caught with them shows that Saddam and Osama have probably decided that irrespective of what happened previously, "an enemy of an enemy is a friend".
Why doesn't anyone blame the Iraqis? they are the ones destroying their own infrastructure, killing their own people and creating the chaos? We can't rebuild while they destroy!
Cheryl Hill Ruiz, USA
Arab Islam is in religious conflict not just in Iraq. Every time someone kills someone else, everyone then howls for vengeance. The Shiite's observe the murder of one of their holy leaders from 11 centuries ago with the intensity of a sadistic ritual. Maybe if the Shiite's of Iraq and the rest of Islam actually spent some time living in the here and now instead of a barbaric past, they would be able to feel an empathy for their neighbours rather than rejoicing in their death and destruction. Islam, especially Arab Islam, must define itself within the world community. Therein lies the problem when radical Islam doesn't want to be part of a community, it wants to destroy those that won't become a part of theirs. This is a problem that US and British led invasions can't solve with military might. However, it is a problem that can be dealt with, but only within Islamic political institutions.
David Lenhart, USA
When things go wrong, every human being falls back to religion; almost a basic instinct. As chaos prevails in Iraq, the various factions will tend to cling to religion and this is likely to be exploited by vested interests. The events indicate a slow but definite decline towards religious strife. But this was being predicted during the time of war itself. Why are the powers who waged the war sounding surprised now? In fact, their contingency plans should have been ready for this eventuality. After all foresight is one of the guiding principles of war.
I have read many of the comments regarding Iraq descending into chaos. First let me tell you that I am currently in Iraq. I am a soldier, I have been here since the beginning of the war and will be here for months to come. First I want to say shame on you who come from France and want to place blame on us for anything. It is all of your equipment that we find everyday here in the old buildings. Second of all I want to say that you only hear what the news wants to spread around the world, the bad stuff. You do not hear of all of the locals that the US employs everyday to work for us. We pay them many times more than what they would normally make in a day. These people love us for the most part.
Of course you are going to have those that wish to oust us from their country. What we have here are loyalists to the old regime and others that have travelled from other countries trying as hard as they can to thwart our efforts. If you cannot see the whole story over here or if you just plain don't want to then, please don't cast judgement on what I have risked my life to do. This stuff takes time and a lot of it. You cannot just win over a country in a matter of months. It takes time.
Iraq is descending into complete chaos. It took the tyranny and brutality of Saddam to keep the peace. To save his re-election efforts, Bush will pull the troops out next summer. With great fanfair about liberation of the Iraqi people, the US will leave this country like we left Afghanistan. The irony is that this was supposedly a part of the War on Terrorism. Once the US withdraws, Iraq will turn into the premier safe haven for all terrorist groups.
Why cant people condemn the anarchy and strife in Iraq now and its perpetrators. People are missing the point here. we have terrorists killing people day in day out and half this forum is discussing Americans. The war is over, the anti-Americans out there should realise this and move on. Saddam caused all this mess in the first place. When he was killing tens of thousands of innocent people, where was the majority on this forum criticizing him? Is it because its a middle east country and these horrors are expected? or maybe America is not involved. We should now hope and pray for peace in Iraq as, lets not forget, thousands of people disappeared and were killed daily in Iraq but as this wasn't broadcast to the world, it seemed as if all was peaceful.
Eniola Johnson, Nigeria
Whatever one may say about Saddam Hussein's regime they did at least have the various factions under control albeit brutally.
The Coalition of the Willing have given all these factions a new freedom, a freedom that they cannot control.
Iraq is heading towards a civil war. The UN must not step in, nor should "friendly" countries volunteer troops. They will all be quite ineffective in the developing situation.
Mark La Brooy,
I am a Muslim, and I am appalled by the carnage caused in Najaf. no Muslim in his right mind would attack another Muslim's holy site. Islam calls for peace and co-existence and abhors Muslims from taking the life of another human being let alone another Muslim. I hope the U.S and the U.K occupying force provides adequate security to both Sunni and Shia sites
Mohammed Payne, UK
As a matter of fact, the US and UK
have not created that mess in the first
place. It has been there for a long time,
worsened by Saddam and the (too)
long lasting sanctions. The coalition
has increased the heat and lifted the
lid from a boiling pot. Many people had
been in true horror about that prospect.
The problem was twofold: the US
government has reacted with terrible
arrogance to the horror and dissent of the
others and some even believed there was
a treasure in the pot which they wanted to
secure for themselves.
Yet again the US is always the bad guy with the rest of the world. It was OK that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were being murdered by Saddam, so long as it was orderly. It is sad that most of Europe has forgotten that freedom isn't free. The Iraqis themselves are the only ones that can ultimately bring change and they will have to pay the price, in blood if necessary, to attain complete freedom. I loathe bringing in the UN to do anything, but if they do come in, it only makes sense to be under US command. Perhaps the US should leave the Balkans - let's see what Europe would say if we did that.
R. Goco, USA
Iraq is fast becoming a hotbed of warring factions and chaos. The Bush administration has bitten off more than it could chew, and after calling the UN irrelevant, has to now go hat in hand to ask for financial and military support. The arrogance shown by this administration before this pre-emptive war, has caused many nations to shy away from helping the people of Iraq.
Saddam kept his country in a brutal grip for 25 years. No, it was not chaos, it was the stability of death and repression.
The US and UK overturned that hideous regime, and now various parties are vying for power in the new Iraq. Unfortunately, that includes the surviving members of the old regime as well as religious extremists from within and outside the country.
Blaming the US and UK for starting the change away from despotism is silly. Expecting immediate stability after decades of repression is naive.
Yes, Iraq may yet descend in chaos, if the nihilists get their way. Our responsibility is to support the Iraqi people now, and the coalition that is attempting to give them a better life.
Wijnand van de Beek, Netherlands
You can bomb the world into pieces but you cannot bomb the world into peace. It was initially easy for the Americans to destroy Iraq but now it is hard for them to rebuild that country. Some religious and political extremist find Iraq as an optimum platform to launch attacks to their most wanted foe (America). Achieving peace and stability is an overdue task.
Patrick, South Africa
America is in a bind: damned if they are strict, and damned if lenient. So why not let the Iraqis protect themselves to some extent?
Hamza Sheikh, USA
The dirty war has now began, the one we all did not want to happen: this is why we went out massively saying no to war. UK and US ignored the international opinion and now they want them to get along with them with a war they decided disregarding Germany, France, the United Nations.
Now what? Too bad, quoting Mr Bush, I would say "the game is over" you're back to square 1! In a war where the enemy is invisible, we are losing soldiers and the worst is to come unless something is being decided very urgently.
In short: Not really. The chaos was already there after the invasion by the US. However, the inability of setting up a "workable" environment eroded much of the basis for a meaningful normalization of living conditions. Further continuation of the present impasse, with US forces totally isolated from the population, will only make matters worse. Not much changes ahead: only a few US casualties per day, some civilians killed, more misery and relentless setting up of the infrastructure for pillaging Iraqi oil.
Erkan Mesir, Turkey
As someone rightly said, keeping peace is more difficult than winning a war - the Iraqi situation is an ample proof. The US simply does not have the will or the capability to maintain peace in Iraq. With more soldiers being killed after the end of major combat, the US is now seeking help from the UN and other nations. However, its arrogance still persists - it wants overall command. So while the UN and the US fight it out, Iraq is descending into chaos - woman are being abducted, people are being killed, bombs explode - all under the nose of the mighty occupying power.
The religious fundamentalists are slowly increasing their hold over the populace.
And in the midst of all this few basic questions are lost - What is happening to the search for the WMDs?
What is happening to the Iraqi Oil?
What is happening to the reconstruction contracts given to Halliburton and other American firms?
Maybe it suits the US to let the chaos in Iraq continue lest these questions surface.
Both the UN and US/UK were responsible for twelve years of sanctions. Why should UN/US be welcomed now? It is not religious strife that is the root cause of problems in Iraq but American world ambitions.
I was a "poet against the war", but there is a lot of twaddle about the US destroying Iraqi infrastructure systems and sovereignty. Saddam's years of plundering and torture did that. It amazes me that rich Arab countries are continually asking what the US and UK is "doing about it". Some of those countries could send Arabic speaking troops to "police" the anarchy which understandably followed the removal of Saddam's brutal agents.
Vernon Moyse, UK
Why should UN get involved now, when USA and UK rejected UN in the first place? Let the US and UK clean the mess up they have created for their own political and economical desires. I would like Americans and UK to stay in that country and bring in the law which they destroyed. There was no religious strife in Saddam's time, why now, is America and UK are trying to hide behind the religion factor to escape from mistake they made. It will be too easy now for Bush and Blair to say "when other countries like Iran and Syria support terrorism we cannot resolve the problems of Iraq.
The Americans are trying to make civil war in Iraq to give them an excuse to get out. Solution is very simple, leave Iraq, damage is done, whatever shape the Iraq is at the moment, let Iraqis build their own country, let them decide what they want as Saddam is no longer in power.
Change by it's very nature is chaos and struggle. I see so much blame put on the U.S. when we are only trying to give them a chance of a brighter, happier future, but the real change must come from within, the choice will have to be made whether they truly want peace or not. It would be so helpful if other Muslim countries were as committed to bringing peace in Iraq as we are, The true and peaceful and wise Muslims must stand up and speak out..and not be afraid of those who wish to destroy any progress. It can be done, it will take time though.
T. A. Sheppard, USA
You people who speak of getting the UN involved now seem to forget that the UN was denigrated and snubbed before the invasion, so where do you get off going cap in hand begging the very same people to help out now? Disgraceful. The can of worms as predicted is now a hornets' nest.
It sounds too good to be true for the USA. "Shia cleric is murdered; Shiites vent their anger and revenge on the Sunnis; clashes break out, they kill each other in Baghdad and the South. Meanwhile Kurdish, Turkish and Sunni Arab tribes kill each other in the North. Finally all the locals forget about resisting and killing Occupation Forces. America steps in to stop the bloodshed and promote co-existence and democracy in the 3rd World. Now America has finally created a legitimate cause for its continued occupation of Iraq. I wonder who murdered the cleric?
The answer unfortunately is definitely. People are without water or electricity for more than five months, crime and violence are extremely common, it is becoming a breeding ground for extremism and the world has only itself to blame.
NS Sahwan, Bahrain
The bombing of one of Islam's holiest shrines not only killed an important Shi'a leader, it also signals the first shot in an Iraqi civil war that Middle East experts warned would ensue if Saddam were removed without careful planning.
The US prohibited and banned the Ba'ath Party, the pan-Arab, secularist and socialist party and thereby encouraged fundamentalism. The US dismantled the Iraqi army and for quite a while even the Iraqi police force. The US was not even able to secure electricity and a normally running infrastructure. This lack of concept, understanding, method and ability caused the disorder and lawlessness now so widespread in Iraq.
Iraq isn't descending into chaos, it ascending from it. 20 years of tyranny, torture, state terror, wars, the public wealth squandered on useless weapons and luxuries for the few and ensuing UN imposed sanctions has left the country in chaos from which it may now emerge as a prosperous and democratic state. It will take time and be constantly under siege by its Islamic enemies including its neighbours who have a vested interest in preventing this from becoming a model for a brighter future in the Middle East.
Once again evidence is given by the arrest of the four culprits in the Najaf bombing that the greatest enemy of the common Muslim comes from within, specifically, the Wahhabi movement that has been allowed to fester and grow with the complicity of the Saudi government (family). If this movement is not destroyed it will certainly lead to greater tragedy and strife throughout the world.
Peter Levy, San Francisco Calif, USA
Whoever did this heinous act of unmitigated terror cannot call themselves Muslims. They attacked the symbol of Shi'ism, killed one of the leaders of the faith and close to 100 faithful souls, just after the main Friday prayers in one of the holiest Muslim cities in the world. Is there any more proof needed that Iraq is descending into chaos? What are the Americans and British doing about this? Nothing it appears.
Mahmood Al-Yousif, Manama, Bahrain
As Mr Bush committed his nation to this undertaking, it should be up to him to clear up this mess. As the old adage goes, "don't start what you can't finish". And that goes for Mr Blair too. Having worked in the Middle East with American troops for 6 years, I have first hand experience of how shallow their knowledge is with regards understanding the Arab culture with its complex traditions and beliefs. Removal of one regime has only created an environment where extremisst can go about their deadly business more freely. At least Saddam Hussein kept a tin lid on these factions, and at the end of the day it is the terrorist that the Americans are waging war on isn't it?
Iraq is experiencing both increased religious strife as well as a developing guerrilla war fought by native Iraqis as well as some supporters who have infiltrated from neighbouring states.
The invasion of the country by US and British forces, the forcible removal of an Iraqi secular regime and its replacement for the time being by an imposed foreign military occupation has removed former constraints on religious and ethnic rivalries. It is also engendering a patriotic reaction from more and more Iraqis who resent seeing their sovereignty quashed by a foreign invasion.
Eric Calderone, USA
From Rumsfield we had talk of "surgical strikes", from Bush and Blair "regime change". Whilst these represent nice little sound bites and ideological wishful thinking they have very little to do with the real world. The majority of the world opposed this invasion and for very good reason. Democracies are born from within. Bringing a free and democratic society to Iraq was not the primary objective of the so-called coalition. Bush and Blair invaded because they thought it would make their countries more secure, more wealthy and they would be more electable. If only democracies could elect more intelligent leaders!?
Steve Mountjoy, New Zealand
I visited Iraq for several weeks after Saddam's troops invaded Kuwait and all I came away with was feeling sorry for their people. Iraqi people (for the most part) are good people. Every society throughout the world has had exploiters...take the US. The current President and Vice President stand to make a great deal of money for the wealthy and hide that fact under the banner of peace. Iraq can have stability if the UN steps in and allows the Iraqi people to form their own government. Democracy is suppose to be what the people want...not what the US leadership wants.
Comparisons to the Allied occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II do not work. Iraq is not Germany or Japan. Both of these countries were advanced nation-states before they became the Axis. Iraq is three former Ottoman provinces cobbled together by the British government after Word War I. The insistence of pro-war apologists to make constant reference to World War II suggests the shallowness of reason for this American adventure in Iraq.
Ron Y, Kansas, USA
We must continue to provide a "free Iraq". The cost to allied soldiers may be greater than expected but I am positive there would have been more innocent Iraqi people murdered or imprisoned by the old regime.
All the British Army/Navy and RAF wants is the British public to support them. The politics may rage on for years but so will the unwavering duty the soldiers/sailors and airmen have to carry out.
They don't want pity, remorse or denial.......just support!!!
It has become obvious that coalition forces can't control Iraq using current tactics. But is it the fault of the US that people are blowing each other up just because they can? If the US tried to put greater controls on the activities of ordinary people in Iraq, wouldn't Iraqis naturally become more resentful? The Iraqis need to be allowed to police themselves and take responsibility for their own behaviour.
The life of a country is like that of a living thing. There is no intervals of death in our lives and nor is there of a country. The US has demolished everything, not only the whole infrastructure of Iraq but the whole systems of it as well. The American politicians have narrow minds. They always decide to move a step forward before knowing where it will lead them. They did not realise that it would be difficult for them to establish a totally new society with new political and social systems. The result was a broken up society where there is no law, no army, no police forces. It is a big crisis for the Iraqi people but the greatest crisis for Bush administration.
Abdrabu Mohamed, Egypt
Almost nobody in these comments thinks that this is "fixable". This is why the misled and egotistical leaders Bush and Blair have made a huge mistake. There is simply no way that a country divided by politics (old or new), religious factions and neighbouring states that have large areas of overlap can easily be fixed overnight.
Why was almost the entire world opposed to this invasion? Exactly for this reason. Endless strife fuelled by religious, political and ethnic divisions will surely follow in Iraq. It's time the Americans stop destroying Third World countries on false pretexts.
Prasad Metta, India
Everyone on this board is so impatient. Did you think Japan and Germany rebuilt itself after WW2? What Iraq really needs is "de-Baathification similar to the de-Nazification classes that were put in Germany at the end of the war. Iraq also needs a marshall plan to rebuild the country in America's image with its institutions so it will be economically successful.
I believe Iraqi people are wise enough to deal with this kind of issue. This is most probably the work of aggressors, a plan to use a divide and rule old method, because they face difficulty to come out of the crises they've been plunged into. The aggressors want the Shia Muslims to fight against the Sunni. I don't think so. They better hand over to the UN and leave the region.
Haji Mohamed, Canada
This is not some local dispute between Shia factions, it is part of a wider strategy designed to make Iraq as difficult and expensive to govern as possible. The nature of recent attacks strongly suggests al-Qaeda is becoming heavily involved in Iraq. In the context of Bush's war on terrorism, it's difficult to imagine a worse own goal.
Jon E, France
I think, these are not religious or ethnic strifes but mainly political. As long as the political future of Iraq remains unclear, we will see a lot of incidents like these since groups will try to gain power for the post-occupation Iraq. Unless UN mandated forces replace the occupiers and there is a clear timetable for free elections, unfortunately these may turn into real ethnic/religious strifes.
How can there ever be any peace in the Middle East when the religious leadership is so insular and inward focused? It reminds me of the Catholic Church before the reformation. Perhaps there needs to be a Islamic Reformation that could expand its vision to be more inclusive of other peoples and their rights. And less tolerant of intolerance and bigotry.
This is a serious and a dangerous problem that really must attract the attention of the international communities. We have seen that the United States cannot single-handedly get Iraq and Iraqis back on track. We beg France, and her little brothers or peers to come in so that the strife will not develop to some extent given the security status of Iraq.
Religious strife has become the paramount obstacle to establishing a new post cold war world order. Iraq's problems, though intense, simply reflect a growing world wide trend. Religion claims to teach peace yet when circumstances seemingly dictate otherwise, it can become the petrol that will reignite world conflict. Through the UN, which I understand has draft legislation in place, I believe the nations will soon unite to attempt to rid the world of this major problem.
D Smith MBA, UK
Iraq is headed where Afghanistan is right now, notice how the US no longer talks about that operation. There are much harsher times ahead for the Iraqis, soon enough the US will get tired of losing men and money and they will pull out while blaming Iran/Syria for the mess they have caused. And then where will Iraq be ? In a much worse place than Iran was when the Shah left. It will be at least 10-15 years before Iraq gets back to where it was before this invasion.
How can something descend into religious strife when the whole issue with the middle east and terrorism boils down to religion?
This religious strife is a direct effect of what the Americans and British have done in that country. Differences between the various sects will always exist. It is a lack of security and order which is the big problem. Just imagine any country and its inhabitants living under such conditions. These bombings and similar incidents are related to religious sectarianism but they become common in environments where they are allowed to breed. In England or any other western country, if the security forces and police were eliminated completely or even if their numbers were reduced slightly - they would be much civil strife. And more so, the less law-abiding citizens would take a predominant role in society. Having said that, putting more "bobbies on the Beat" out in Najaf will not help the situation.
I think Iraq is plunging into both religious and ethnic strife at the same, the latter being between Arabs-Kurds and in the former case, the Kurds-Turkmen. I believe there is more instability ahead as intra-Iraq conflicts have or will have spillover effects in the region to potentially bring in Iran, Turkey and Arab states in the region. Pandora's box has just been opened.
Ipek Ruacan, Turkey
Stability may take some time. The UN must become involved and help Iraq rebuild itself now that it is free of Saddam.
Gary Gatter, UK