Saturday, March 11, 2017

At least 40+ Shia Muslims killed in a twin bomb attack in Damascus, Syria.

The aftermath of the blasts showing the pilgrim's buses. BBC/AP.

At least 40 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a double bombing in Syria's capital of Damascus. BBC. The attack occurred at the Bab al-Saghir cemetery, which is a pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims. Many of the victims in this attack were from Iraq. Shiite Muslims have been common targets throughout the civil war but attacks rarely happen in Damascus, which is mostly under the control and protection of Bashar al-Assad. The bombers used a two pronged attack, in which they detonated a remote bomb while another attacker blew himself up. Responsibility for the attack has not been established but the former al-Nusra Front, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and ISIS are the top suspects. 

My Comment:
Another fairly effective attack in Syria. This time it took place in Damascus itself. I won't say that Damascus has been spared the worst effects of the war. There was a three week battle there back in 2012 and there have been raids, fighting and terror attacks since then. But let's be clear, as far as Syria goes, it's one of the safer places. An attack here is a big deal and not something to be ignored. It is the seat of power of the Assad regime and any attack in the city is serious. 

It is somewhat odd that an attack in Syria would have mostly Iraqi victims, but I guess it happens. I don't think Iraq is all that safe itself, but if I was going to go anywhere from there, I can't think of a worse place then Syria. I guess it goes to show that people will do dangerous things for their faith. Going on a pilgrimage though shouldn't be one of them and it's a shame that these Shiite Muslims had to die for it. 

It is no surprise though that someone was targeting Shiite Muslims. Shia and Sunni Muslims have been fighting each other for a long, long time. Indeed, much of the conflict in the Middle East these days can be seen through the lens of the Sunni-Shia conflict. The conflict is why Iraq was never stable, it's why Yemen is a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and it's why Syria is such a massive mess. Sure, Assad himself is an Alawite, which is somewhat different than Shia Muslims, but are hated all the same by the more extreme Sunni Muslims. 

Indeed, one of the reasons I kinda want Bashar al-Assad to win is because I know that if ISIS, Fatah al-Sham or even the less secular Jihadists rebels were to take over the country it would likely be the end of Shiite Muslims in Syria. Along with Christians, Druze, Alawites and all the other small religious minorities in Syria. They would either flee, compounding an already untenable refugee crisis or stay and be killed. There really isn't any other outcome of the Sunni extremists win...

This attack specifically demonstrates one of the major differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The Shia Muslims have no problem with tombs and cemeteries. The have the same beliefs on the issue as most of the western world and often go on pilgrimages to visit these sites. Sunni Muslims, especially the radical ones, consider tombs and cemeteries to be potentially idolatrous. Sunni Muslims are much more iconoclastic than Shiites and consider these sites to be a form of ancestor worship. The more extreme Muslims are willing to kill over it. 

Speaking of which, I wonder who was responsible for this attack. ISIS is the most obvious suspect and they do control some territory near Damascus. Most of that territory is empty desert though and the Syrian government is between them and the city. I guess it is possible that ISIS was able to smuggle in people to conduct this attack but it would be difficult. 

It would also make very little sense for them to waste weapons and manpower on an attack that has little strategic importance. Though there is always something to be said about striking deep behind enemy lines, it really doesn't do much for ISIS. Remember, ISIS is in a serious situation where they are retreating practically everywhere. Their duel capitals, Mosul and Raqqa, are in serious danger of being lost. I am guessing that due to these factors that there is a real possiblity that they weren't responsible, even though they probably are the leading suspect. 

The other main suspect is Fatah al-Sham, formally al-Nusra Front. Fatah al-Sham was formally associated with al-Qaeda and they were also the parent organization for ISIS before the two groups split in two. Their beliefs are similar to ISIS's and they have a strong presence in Damascus. Most of that is underground, but the fighting between them and the regime has been fierce. Indeed, this attack could be a revenge attack in payback for the destruction of one of their command posts near the city.  

Still, it seems a little out of character for Fatah al-Sham. Though they have conducted bombings in the past and hate Shia Islam almost as much as ISIS, they have been much more pragmatic in the Syrian Civil War. They are certainly capable of such an attack, it just seems unusual for them to pull one off that doesn't have immediate tactical and strategic advantages. 

Either way though, this is just another of a long line of serious bombings in the Syrian Civil War. No matter who is responsible, in the end, it is just another drop in the bucket... 

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