Mobs of Sunni Bahrainis attacked Shiite businesses and homes with iron rods and sticks in response to months of popular Shiite protests opposing the abusive U.S.-supported regime, in a sign that the sectarian strife is reaching a boiling point.
Shiite Bahrainis – who make up about 70 percent of the population in the Gulf monarchy ruled by Sunnis – have been protesting for democratic reforms for over a year. The regime’s response was initially bloody, killing dozens of unarmed protesters in February 2011 when security forces shot at them with live rounds.
Since then, and after considerable international pressure, the government response has been relegated to tear gas, severe beatings, systematic torture, and widespread repression and intimidation. And the protest movement has maintained its strength, resorting to Molotov cocktails, rock-throwing, and attempted attacks on police.
The Sunni minority, favored by the dictatorship, has begun to respond in frustration, ransacking Shiite businesses and waging vigilante-style attacks in some Shiite areas. The White House meekly condemned the increase in violence on Wednesday and urged restraint on all sides.
But the Obama administration has been supportive of the regime’s stubborn repression throughout. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and is considered by Washington as a geopolitical asset in the strategically important Persian Gulf, also serving as a bulwark against Shiite Iran.
Over $92 million in aid has been sent since Obama’s inauguration and another $22.4 million slated for 2012 and 2013. The Obama administration has quietly moved forward with a new package of arms sales to the regime in Bahrain, after international pressure forced them to delay its planned $53 million arms sale. Using legal loopholes, they moved forward with the new sales without notifying the public.