AMERICA keeps getting wrong-footed on Iraq - clueless on terror bombings like the one last month in Najaf, suddenly and foolishly turning to the United Nations for help in running the newly freed nation. To set themselves right, U.S. policy-makers could start making use of a neglected resource: patriotic American Muslims.
Most of the better-known U.S. Muslim groups toe a line dictated by the pseudo-Islamic hatemongers - perhaps because their funding depends on it, perhaps because the death cultists have spent decades working to mold U.S. opinion.
But millions of American Muslims disagree, vehemently. One example: The large Shia community of greater New York - up to 75,000 Americans with roots in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the Balkans. They passionately supported the liberation of Iraq by the U.S. coalition. And they have been seething with anger since the terrible news came from Najaf, of the bombing that killed Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim and up to 100 people last Friday.
They have no doubt of the perpetrators' identity: A few stragglers from the Saddam regime may have been involved, but behind them stands the Wahhabi sect - the religious hierarchy of Saudi Arabia, Iraq's southern neighbor.
Maulana Zaheer al-Hassan Naqvi, a leader in the tristate area of the religious tendency led by Ayatollah al-Hakim, said: "We believe Wahhabis committed this crime. They think they will be rewarded in paradise. Wahhabis claim that Shias are not Muslims, and that to kill them is a duty. Their aim is to murder all the Shia leaders and thus to prevent the emergence of a Shia-led Islamic democracy in Iraq, where the majority is Shia."
The Saudi authorities responded to reports that two Saudis had been arrested in connection with the attack by accusing the Najaf police and the Iraqi media of "unsubstantiated allegations."
But none of the Shias I spoke to in New York or around the country could accept the idea of Shia involvement in this atrocity. It is as inconceivable to them as a Christian bombing the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, or a Jew bombing the Western Wall in Jerusalem, would be to non-Muslims.
Of course, every religion has its fanatics, and ideology drives some to madness. But the bombing of the Imam Ali shrine will never be forgotten, and Iraq's Shias will never forgive its perpetrators. Any Shia involved in this atrocity would gain nothing by it, short term or long.
A leading Iraqi-American Shia cleric, Sheikh Fadhel al-Sahlani, filled with emotion, described his shock at the selection of the place, time and person targeted:
* The shrine of Imam Ali is the site to which all Shia hearts are turned.
* The explosion came at the end of the Friday collective prayer.
* The date in the Islamic calendar was the first of the month of Rajab - the birthday of the fifth Imam, a leading Shia figure born in the first century of Islamic history.
* The martyred al-Hakim was among the surviving members of a whole family wiped out, in the most brutal ways, by Saddam's torturers.
Sheikh al-Sahlani ended his comments by calling on the coalition to give Iraqis authority to secure their country.
Shias are also doubtful of the wisdom of letting the United Nations help pacify Iraq, including, as some have suggested, troops from Pakistan. Pakistani Shias are angry that Wahhabis in their country have pursued a campaign of mass murder of Shia Muslims, exemplified by the Quetta massacre last month.
One top New York Shia community leader warned anonymously: "The Pakistani military intelligence body, known as Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI], is packed with Wahhabi agents, whom Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seems powerless to remove. The ISI helped establish the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and would doubtless seek the same end in Iraq."
Maulana Zaheer told me of the chilling conditions under which he lived in Pakistan, where a Sunni Muslim who had been his best friend in childhood told him one day he had joined the Wahhabis and would kill him without a thought, when ordered to do so.
Shia Muslims want democracy to succeed in Iraq. But the coalition forces must help them protect their people from Saudi-incited marauders as well as Saddamite dead-enders.
Such assistance would include arms and training inside Iraq, and a diplomatic ultimatum to Saudi Arabia: Stop letting terrorists cross your borders. Enough is enough.
Stephen Schwartz is the author of "The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism."