Saddam Hussein faces the gallows for the murder of 148 townspeople from Dujail in 1982. In two days, 260 Iraqis were slaughtered in an orgy of violence in and around Baghdad. Will anyone ever stand trial for this latest obscene crime, or will it merely be the trigger for new, equally loathsome crimes perpetrated in vengeance? Too many people in Iraq are now busy condemning the violence of the other side. Fewer and fewer are the voices that are genuinely condemning the violence itself. The country's leaders have bargained and bickered for way too long, while outside the relative safety of Baghdad's Green Zone, the initiative has been seized by the extremists. The law of the gun now rules much of Iraq and by and large it is Iraqis who are slaughtering Iraqis.

The Americans can be blamed for creating this disaster, of course, but they are not perpetrating the ever-increasing daily savagery. Blaming Washington, as Mahdi Army leader Moqtada Sadr did yesterday is devious nonsense. The U.S.-led occupation forces have certainly failed spectacularly to create a stable Iraq. However the way things stand at the moment, their withdrawal - probably sooner rather than later - will remove a primary restraint (perhaps the only one at this moment) against the possibility of an all-out civil war. That is why ordinary Iraqis, though always unhappy with the foreign occupation, now dread the moment it will end. Sadr also called yesterday on Sunni religious leaders to issue a fatwa against the terrorists in their communities. This is highly desirable and should have been done months ago. However, it is equally right that Shiite religious leaders should back it with their own fatwa against the murderous violence being done by Shiite militants. But Sadr didn't say this. His statement was immediately devalued because it was clearly mere political posturing. And therein lies the root of Iraq's tragedy: tit-for-tat politics has fostered tit-for-tat violence.

Whatever the rhetoric about a united Iraq, the country's leaders have too often refracted their view of the future through the interests of their particular communities. The widely touted vision of a peaceful, multi-sectarian Iraq has been put out of reach by the disagreements and disgruntlements of purely partisan politics. Nothing could have been better calculated to encourage the gunmen and the bombers than this failure of politicians to work together for the national interest rather than sectarian good.

With the country falling apart, police and army deeply compromised, and ethnic cleansing now commonplace, Iraqis are being forced to turn increasingly to their own communities for safety, including the murderous young thugs and bullies who pretend to be protecting their interests. It may still not be too late for the tiny voice of peace to finally roar above the sound of bomb blasts and gunfire. But the grandstanding bombast, the mean-minded maneuvering and the blinkered political vision among the majority of Iraq's politicians must cease and desist. It is Iraqis who are killing Iraqis, and only Iraqis can stop the slaughter.