The violence around Balad, a Shiite enclave in a largely Sunni region, began Friday with the kidnapping and beheading of 17 Shiite farmworkers from Duluiyah, a predominantly Sunni town. Taysser Musawi, a Shiite cleric in Balad, said Shiite leaders in the town appealed to a Baghdad office of Moqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shiite cleric, to send militiamen to defend local Shiites and to take revenge. Sadr's political party is a member of a Shiite religious alliance that governs Iraq.
Shiite fighters responded in force, local police said. Witnesses said Shiite fighters began hunting down Sunnis, allegedly setting up checkpoints in the area to stop travelers and demand whether they were Shiite or Sunni.
By Sunday afternoon, 80 bodies were stacked in the morgue of the Balad hospital, the only sizable medical center in the region, physician Kamal al-Haidari said by telephone. Most of the victims had been shot in the head, he said. Other hospital officials said some of the bodies had holes from electric drills and showed other signs of torture. The majority of the victims were believed to be from Duluiyah.
The hospital received calls from residents who said more bodies were lying in the streets, but workers were unable to pick them up, Haidari said. Witnesses arriving at the hospital also reported seeing bodies in the roads, he said.
In tiny Sunni towns throughout the area, Sunni men and boys as young as 10 took up arms to defend against any Shiite militias entering, said Khaled al-Jubouri, a Sunni sheik in Duluiyah. Jubouri said that he had declined a request for peace talks with the Shiite elders of Balad and that he wanted the Shiite militiamen surrendered to Sunni authorities and an apology.
...Further demonstrating the growing fragmentation in Iraq, a bloc of Sunni insurgent groups marked the anniversary by declaring a separate Islamic republic in Iraq, stretching from the western province of Anbar to Baghdad, Kirkuk and other parts of the north. The announcement was made by a spokesman for the Mujaheddin Shura Council, an umbrella organization of insurgent groups that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, and aired by al-Jazeera satellite television.
By late Sunday, residents were saying that no American forces had intervened, despite some earlier reports that they had. U.S. military spokesmen did not immediately respond to a midafternoon request for clarification.
Iraq is in a state of open war between Sunnis and Shiites, Al Qaeda feels powerful enough to announce a separate republic, and our soldiers are...where? They weren't holed up in bases, I can promise you that. The fact is there is simply too much violence for them to be everywhere at once, or even to respond to major trouble spots apparently.
Listening to NPR this morning, I heard one voter in this report say that the war was not the major issue for him in deciding how to vote (it didn't say if he plans to vote Democrat or Republican.) I both do and do not understand that. The war is far away, and if you don't know anyone serving, or maybe even if you do, you still have the economy to worry about, your job, your family's future, which may have precious little to do with terrorism or Iraq. And yet, we have 140,000 soldiers serving in Iraq, fighting a dreadful and violent conflict, and they were sent there by an administration that misled us and themselves, and that was enabled by Republican politicians in Congress whose purpose in the run-up to war and largely since has been merely to serve as mouth-pieces of the administration in attacks on Democrats. I don't understand how that can't weigh on someone's mind as they're trying to decide who to vote for. Perhaps it's merely an attempt to downplay inconvenient facts for someone who wants to vote a particular way, but perhaps it's also a misunderstanding of how badly this war has hurt us. This war has ruined our standing overseas, damaged our ability to protect our vital interests, damaged our ability to protect ourselves from terrorists, damaged our military and cost us hundreds of billions of dollars. It is entirely possible that 50 years from now our descendants will look back on this war as the beginning of the end of the Pax Americana, squandered after a period of less than 15 years since the end of the Cold War. The effect of this will be felt by everyone, from the heights of power in D.C. to the smallest suburb to the rural countryside. So when you go to the polls, think about your job yes, think about the economy yes, think about immigration yes...but don't forget which party took us into a war which has the potential to severely damage us as a world power. And more importantly, don't forget about the soldiers still fighting over there; it is our voices they will heed when we decide as a nation what course to follow in Iraq.
Update: And it gets worse.
Update: By the way, five years into the "war on terror" and 3 1/2 years into the war in Iraq, and Very Important People on the Hill have no idea what they're talking about.