Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sectarian War Prolongs the Occupation

Even leaders of the 'legitimate' resistance agree!

'For Zarqawi, the aim was to start a civil war. This would not only confound state-building but also weaken the Shia position and force the United States to leave Iraq withouta positive political outcome. In September 2005, after US and Iraqi troops launched a major offensive against insurgent forces along the Iraq-Syria border, Zarqawi retaliated with three days of mayhem, during which suicide bombings and assassinations killed and maimed hundreds of Shias, including clerics and government workers. The attacks were followed by a posting on an al-Qaeda-affiliated website that called for a "full-scale war on Shiites all over Iraq, whenever and wherever they are found."

Zarqawi's extremist posture also found reflection in the angry rejection of occupation and Shia empowerment by Iraq's Sunni clerics, especially those who gathered in the more militant and also broadly popular Association of Muslim Clerics (Hay'at al-Ulama al-Muslimin). The association was important in giving the insurgency religious sanction. In particular, some of its leaders, such as Ayyash al-Kubaisi, openly endorsed the insurgency as a legitimate jihad. The association also reflected the sectarian bias of the insurgency's Salafi sentinels. Some of its ulama had maintained ties with Saudi Arabia, from which they received financial and moral support. Some of the association's leaders who had recently returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam, such as its spokesman, Muthanna Harith al-Dhari, who was also an important link between the association and the insurgency, had studied in the kingdom. These ulama favored Hanbali law, associated with Ibn Tayamiya and Wahhabism (and thus a strong anti-Shia posture), over the Hanfali law that has long been the traditional creed of Iraq's Sunni Arabs.

The Shia understood the rage and the roots of the violence that was perpetrated against them. As one Shia cleric put it, "The killers of today are the same killers as yesterday." Still, Shia leaders and their flock, victims and bystanders, all repeatedly chose to blame outsiders for the violence against them. It was almost as if there was great fear in identifying neighbors and countrymen as those responsible. But even if this were true, and if the Shia genuinely believed it, then the question would remain: Who were the outsiders? They were Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians, and most of all Saudis - all Sunni extremists who had come to Iraq to fight Americans and kill Shias. Their national identity would cast them as outsiders to Iraq, but they were still Sunni Arabs. They shared Sunni religious, Arab ethnic, and in some cases even tribal identities with Iraq's Sunni insurgents, and shared a Salafi ideology that guided their actions.

The notion of insider and outsider had little meaning when broader identities such as Shia and Sunni, Arab and non-Arab were defining the conflict. This point was made clear by Ayatollah Ahmad al-Safi, a close aide of Ayatollah Sistani's and his representative in Kerbala. Safi reacted to the Kazemiya stampede by calling on the ulama of al-Azhar in Egypt - symbolizing the Sunni world - to break their "negative" silence and condemn the insurgency, just as he called on Shias to maintain their "positive" silence and refrain from responding in kind to the violence. Other Shia leaders more directly criticized the country's Sunni clerics for not forcefully denouncing the insurgency's anti-Shia violence.

When Zarqawi declared "full-scale war on Shiites," the association's Abu Bashir al-Tartousi objected, criticizing this brazen call to arms in a tract entitled "About Sectarian War in Iraq"25 Tartousi argued that Shia civilians did not bear responsibility for the actions of the Shia-led government or US forces and should not be the object of war. However, he prefaced his criticism by validating the general thrust of Zarqawi's sectarian rhetoric, saying that "although sectarian war in Iraq may have been provoked and sparked by the Shia, perceived to be major allies of the occupation forces; and although it is right of the Muslim mujahid [one who undertakes jihad] to defend himself, his honor, and his cities against the crusader invaders and whoever is allied with them, killing according to sectarian affiliation is not justified by Islamic Law." Tartousi saw the victims as responsible for the violence. The insurgents were justified in their anger at the Shia and should merely refrain from "taking justice into their own hands." It was a matter not of the Shia's guilt - Tartousi took that for granted - but of the kind of justice that they should face and from whom.

Tartousi was also less concerned with the morality of killing Shia civilians than with its implications for the success of the insurgency. He wrote in detail on this theme: "Sectarian war is [in] the crusader's interest, aimed at dividing the efforts of the mujahideen...[and] gives grounds for a longer occupation...and causes the legitimate Iraqi resistance to lose its credibility in the eyes of the Islamic world." Tartousi's argument was also reflected in the veiled criticism of Zarqawi by Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, who objected to sectarian war because it would "serve the aims of enemies conspiring against Islam." This hardly amounted to the kind of condemnation that the Shia had demanded from Sunni clerics.' --Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival

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