A mob of gunmen went on a brazen daytime rampage through a predominantly Sunni Arab district of western Baghdad on Sunday, pulling people from their cars and homes and killing them in what officials and residents called a spasm of revenge by Shiite militias for the bombing of a Shiite mosque on Saturday. Hours later, two car bombs exploded beside a Shiite mosque in another Baghdad neighborhood in a deadly act of what appeared to be retaliation.
While Baghdad has been ravaged by Sunni-Shiite bloodletting in recent months, even by recent standards the violence here on Sunday was frightening, delivered with impunity by gun-wielding vigilantes on the street. In the culture of revenge that has seized Iraq, residents all over the city braced for an escalation in the cycle of retributive mayhem between the Shiites and Sunnis that has threatened to expand into civil war.
The violence coincided with an announcement by American military officials that they had formally accused four more American soldiers of rape and murder, and a fifth soldier of “dereliction of duty” for failing to report the crimes, in connection with the deaths of a teenage Iraqi girl and three members of her family.
With movement in Baghdad difficult after a military cordon was established to suppress the violence, facts were hard to ascertain. The death toll from the shootings alone ranged from fewer than a dozen, according to the American military, to more than 40 reported by some news services. The bombing near the mosque later claimed at least 19 lives and left 59 wounded, officials said.
The military’s announcement about the soldiers brought to six the number implicated in the rape-murder, one more than previously disclosed. The case has enraged Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and led to apologies by the highest American military and civilian officials in Iraq. A photograph of the girl’s passport distributed by news agencies on Sunday showed that she was 14.
Only seven weeks old, Mr. Maliki’s government is facing increasingly difficult obstacles. Worsening violence has undermined his intention to disarm the country’s sectarian militias. At the same time, the growing furor over criminal accusations against American troops has tested Mr. Maliki’s divided loyalties to his American allies and to an Iraqi public that has grown weary of the American presence.
The next time that Rich Lowry goes on TV to discuss the war in Iraq, someone needs to ask him why anyone should ever take him seriously ever again.