Iraq: clerics unite against sectarian terror

Even Donald Rumsfeld is starting to make cut-and-run noises. As the Bush White House holds a high-level strategy session on Iraq Oct. 21, the Defense Secretary told reporters: “It’s their country, they’re going to have to govern it, they’re going to have to provide security for it, and they’re going to have to do it sooner rather than later. The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, instead of developing strength and capacity and competence.” (GulfNews, UAE, Oct. 21) But we say such talk is purely for public consumption.

The recent fighting in the southern town of Amarah indicates just how far out of wack the situation has gotten, from the perspective of US imperialism. The US-backed Interior Ministry troops, barely distinguishable from the Iran-backed militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, beat back an armed take-over of the city by the even more radical Shi’ite faction of Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. (AP, Oct. 21) Meanwhile in Baghdad, the unabated surge in sectarian killings has forced the Pentagon to review its security plan for the capital, admitted Major-General William Caldwell. “The violence is, indeed, disheartening,” he said. “Operation Together Forward has…has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence.” The US has sent 12,000 additional US and Iraqi troops into Baghdad since August only to see a 22% increase in attacks since the beginning of Ramadan on Sept. 24. (SMH, Oct. 21)

The only significant glimmer of hope lies in the potential for Iraqis themselves to repudiate the sectarian cleansing and the US occupation alike. Because failing to oppose the occupation allows the sectarian hate-mongers to pose as the “resistance” to imperialism and its collaborators, while failing to recognize the horrific reality of the sectarian civil war clearly underway allows the US to pose (however paradoxically) as Iraq’s defender against greater chaos. From Bloomberg, Oct. 20:

Iraqi Clerics to Meet in Mecca to Try to End Sectarian Violence

Iraqi religious leaders will meet late today in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in an effort to halt escalating sectarian violence in their country.

Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders from Iraq will be asked to endorse a document calling for the rejection of violence and the prohibition of the killing of innocent people, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said on its Arabic-language Web-site.

The 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference is behind the initiative, the PUK said. The meeting in the pilgrimage city will take place after sundown, when Muslims break the fast they observe each day during the month of Ramadan. Today is Ramadan’s final Friday, Islam’s weekly day of prayer.

Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, declined to attend the meeting, though he has voiced support for the effort, the PUK said. Also absent will be anti- U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite who also said he backs the process, according to the party. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia is behind some of the attacks on Sunnis.

Iraqi death squads kill an average of 100 people every day on rival sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide, United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland said on Oct. 11. His comments came as a survey by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Baghdad’s al-Mustansiriya University showed that as many as 655,000 people may have died in Iraq as a result of the violence and deteriorating conditions that followed the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.


U.S. President George W. Bush, who dismissed the survey as not credible, this week said he would reject any plan to partition Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines to end the violence. The Sunni-dominated regime of ousted President Saddam Hussein oppressed the majority Shiites, most of them in the south, and the ethnic Kurds of northern Iraq.

Bush is under pressure to change his administration’s strategy in Iraq. An independent commission set up by Congress and led by former Secretary of State James Baker is set to make recommendations on Iraq before the end of the year. Baker, who served under Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, has said creating three Iraqi states in a loose federation is one of the ideas that the panel is reviewing.

Baker also has said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government has a limited time to demonstrate it can get control of the country.

In Balad, a city about 85 kilometers (53 miles) north of Baghdad, nine people were killed and 12 wounded in mortar attacks early today, Agence France-Presse said, citing police. Sectarian clashes have raged in the town since a Sunni insurgent leader was killed on Oct. 12.

Five Palestinian refugees were killed and 11 others wounded by a mortar attack in the Baladiyat district of eastern Baghdad, AFP said, citing police Lieutenant Ali Mohsen.

See our last post on Iraq.