The Washington Post reports: Security forces backed by helicopters battled supporters of a radical cleric in the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Wednesday, as spreading violence threatened to pull more areas of the country into turmoil.
The clashes erupted when the security forces tried to seize the offices of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi, who has sharply criticized the government. The fighting marked the first sign of a potential for violent rifts within the Shiite community as the government battles an Sunni insurgency inspired by al-Qaeda. Two members of the security forces were killed, along with an unconfirmed number of the cleric’s gunmen, according to a local official.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is trying to prevent the breakup of Iraq in the face of an offensive by the heavily armed insurgents, who have already declared an Islamic state stretching across Iraqi and Syrian territory. But the threats to Iraq’s territorial integrity are many, as the Kurds prepare to vote on independence farther north and Shiite dissatisfaction bubbles in the south. [Continue reading…]