First the facts. According to Iraqi officials, a female suicide bomber, hiding explosives in her clothes, detonated herself in a tent designed for resting Shiite women and children making the pilgrimage to honor the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein. At least thirty people were killed and several more injured, almost all women and children.
It was the latest in a series of attacks directed at Shiite pilgrims in recent days, which Iraqi and Western officials said were aimed at stoking sectarian violence.
The resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq might have been predictable at this time of year. The pilgrimage not only makes Shiites more vulnerable to such attacks due their guaranteed congregation in large numbers and predictable locations. Perhaps equally striking, at least symbolically, is the nature of the pilgrimage itself - it marks the Shiite holiday Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein - essentially commemorating the original Sunni-Shiite split in Islam.
More importantly, however, is the question of whether the relative security that Iraq has experienced recently has been broken. Just Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week, there has been a deadly attack on Shiites every day. Wednesday, 12 Shiites were killed in an attack in Baghdad. And yesterday, eight were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a belt filled with nails, this near the Hussein shrine itself in the holy city of Karbala. The Thursday attack was the most deadly of five prominent attacks reported in the country by the Associated Press.
So what's going on here?
Is the resurgence of violence portentous of things to come, or limited to the holiday time? The Iraqi government, as well as the US military, had greatly intensified security during the holiday, especially along the road to Karbala. And yet, for three successive days, extremists have succeeded in killing pilgrims, likely for the purpose of stirring up sectarian violence.
The point: it ain't over yet. As you might imagine (stereotypically), I've supported the concept of giving the Iraqis a firm timetable for the withdrawal of our forces. At the risk of being too nonspecific - we've got some other major things to focus on, not the least of which is a looming backslide of everything we've gained in Afghanistan (and, you know, the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, not to hit the talking points too hard). But as much as we'd like to pretend that our job in Iraq is over, the fact is we still have some way to go before we can hit the road.