This is a bad sign:
No one knows who tortured and killed Hassan al-Nuaimi, a Sunni Arab cleric whose body was found in an empty lot here last week, with a hole drilled in his head and both eyes missing. But the various theories have a distinctly sectarian tinge.
The Shiite police chief investigating the death said he suspected Sunni Arab extremists who have driven much of the insurgency in Iraq, much of it aimed at Shiites. The Sunni family mourning the cleric pointed the finger at the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia. But with Mr. Nuaimi buried, the truth, as so often with killings in Iraq, seems to be lost in rumor and allegations.
The only sure thing is that Mr. Nuaimi and another Sunni man who helped write sermons were killed within 12 hours of their disappearance from a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in northeast Baghdad.
Their deaths, amid violence that has taken more than 550 lives across Iraq this month, renewed concern that the bloodshed may be shifting ever more toward crudely sectarian killings.
Hard-line Sunni leaders have pressed the case. “The killing in Iraq now is according to religious identity,” said Sheik Abdel Nasir al-Janabi, a religious Sunni and a hard-line member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni political group that claims to have ties to the insurgency. “Now you’re killed because you’re a Sunni Arab.”
Shiite leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, have responded to such talk with calls for calm and renewed appeals to Shiites that they place their trust in Iraq’s fledgling democracy, not revenge killings.
Was this sort of widespread revenge killing inevitable?