Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

BAGHDAD — Cars, minibuses and roadside bombs exploded in Shiite Muslim enclaves across the city Sunday, killing at least 45 people in sectarian violence that defied the Baghdad security crackdown, while a radical anti-U.S. cleric raised a new threat to Iraq’s government.

Two officials close to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his followers would quit their six Cabinet posts Monday — a move that could leave Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s already weak administration without enough support to stay in power.

And in a rare gesture of dissent from America’s partners in Baghdad, dozens of Iraqi policemen demonstrated in front of their station, accusing U.S. troops of treating them like “animals” and “slaves.”

The U.S. military command announced the combat deaths of three more Americans. Two British service members died when their helicopters crashed in midair north of Baghdad, and hours later a U.S. helicopter was hit by ground fire near Mosul but landed safely with no injuries.

Six powerful bombs, gunfire and artillery blasts enveloped Baghdad in a near-constant din that seemed a setback for the nine-week-old U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to pacify the capital.

U.S. commanders previously cited a slight decrease in violence since the crackdown began Feb. 14, but urged patience for what they warned would be a long, tough fight.

“Although we’re making steady progress ... we have a long way to go,” Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters Sunday. “We will continue to face attacks from those who attempt to tear down what the Iraqi people have worked so hard to build.”

The crackdown is believed to have driven many insurgents from Baghdad, and violence has soared in areas outside the capital, such as the bombing in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that killed 47 people and wounded 224 Saturday.

But violence has spiked upward again in Baghdad, with Sunday’s six bombings coming just three days after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside parliament and killed a lawmaker.

“This week has been difficult for the Iraqi people,” Fox acknowledged.

The carnage caused some to voice doubts about the Baghdad crackdown.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- WB Yeats


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