Tuesday, January 16, 2007

'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans' (Guardian)

As I've discussed in the past, since early 2004 the coalition of Ba'athists and Islamist fanatics at the core of the Sunni Arab "insurgency" has pursued a systematic strategy of murdering Iraqi Shiites--ranging from major religious and political figures through government employees and professionals to indiscriminately targeted ordinary people--in order to detonate a full-scale sectarian civil war that would render the country ungovernable and panic the US into leaving Iraq. (See Some thoughts on the terrorist strategy of the Iraqi 'insurgency' and Zarqawi - Man of the year for 2006? and, most recently, Some unhappy thoughts on options in Iraq.)

In the interviews reported in this illuminating article by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, "The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans" (Guardian - January 13, 2007), some Sunni Arab "insurgents" in Baghdad contemplate the long-term consequences of this strategy.
In Baghdad in late October I called a Sunni insurgent I had known for more than a year. [....] He had been on the Americans' wanted list for three years but I had never seen him so anxious; he had trimmed his beard in the close-cropped Shia style and kept looking towards the door. His brother had been kidnapped a few days before, he told me, and he believed he was next on a Shia militia's list. He had fled his home in the north of the city and was staying with relatives in a Sunni stronghold in west Baghdad.

He was more despondent than angry. "We Sunni are to blame," he said. "In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: 'This is not jihad. You can't kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs - why provoke them?' "

Then he said: "I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming." [....]

[At another meeting:]The taxi driver commander, who sat cross-legged on a sofa, joined in: "If the Americans leave we will be slaughtered." A big-bellied man waved his hands dismissively: "We will massacre the Shia and show them who are the Sunnis! They couldn't have done anything without the Americans' support."
Some highlights follow, but read the whole thing. (Thanks to Mick Hartley for alerting me to his article.)

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. For one account of how things look from the perspective of the Shia Arabs, see Inside Baghdad's civil war (contd.).
=========================
The Guardian (London)
January 13, 2007
Inside Baghdad's civil war:
'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans'


As 20,000 more US troops head for Iraq, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the only correspondent reporting regularly from behind the country's sectarian battle lines, reveals how the Sunni insurgency has changed

One morning a few weeks ago I sat in a car talking to Rami, a thick-necked former Republican Guard commando who now procures arms for his fellow Sunni insurgents.

Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad." [....]

In Baghdad in late October I called a Sunni insurgent I had known for more than a year. He was the mid-level commander of a small cell, active against the Americans in Sunni villages north of Baghdad. Sectarian frontlines had been hardening in the city for months - it took us 45 minutes of haggling to agree on a meeting place which we could both get to safely. We met in a rundown workers' cafe.

"Its not a good time to be a Sunni in Baghdad," Abu Omar told me in a low voice. He had been on the Americans' wanted list for three years but I had never seen him so anxious; he had trimmed his beard in the close-cropped Shia style and kept looking towards the door. His brother had been kidnapped a few days before, he told me, and he believed he was next on a Shia militia's list. He had fled his home in the north of the city and was staying with relatives in a Sunni stronghold in west Baghdad.

He was more despondent than angry. "We Sunni are to blame," he said. "In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: 'This is not jihad. You can't kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs - why provoke them?' "

Then he said: "I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming."

This man who had spent the last three years fighting the Americans was now willing to talk to them, not because he wanted to make peace but because he saw the Americans as the lesser of two evils. He was wrestling with the same dilemma as many Sunni insurgent leaders, beginning to doubt the wisdom of their alliance with al-Qaida extremists.

Another insurgent commander told me: "At the beginning al-Qaida had the money and the organisation, and we had nothing." But this alliance soon dragged the insurgents and then the whole Sunni community into confrontation with the Shia militias as al-Qaida and other extremists massacred thousands of Shia civilians. Insurgent commanders such as Abu Omar soon found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, fighting organised militias backed by the Shia-dominated security forces.[....]
[JW: Actually, trying to put all the blame for massacres of Shiite civilians on al-Qaeda and other jihadist "extremists" is understandable but quite misleading--especially since it's clear that surviving Ba'athist networks have always provided a great deal of "the money and the organization" to coordinate and supply the Sunni Arab "insurgency."]
Abu Omar had proposed encouraging young Sunni men to enlist in the army and the police to redress the sectarian balance. He suggested giving the Americans a ceasefire, in an attempt to stop ministry of interior commandos' raids on his area. Al-Qaida had said no to all these measures; now he wanted other Iraqi insurgent commanders to support him.

A heated discussion was raging. One of the men, with a very thin moustache, a huge belly and a red kuffiya wrapped around his shoulder, held a copy of the Qur'an in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I asked him what his objectives were. "We are fighting to liberate our country from the occupations of the Americans and their Iranian-Shia stooges."

"My brother, I disagree," said Abu Omar. "Look, the Americans are trying to talk to us Sunnis and we need to show them that we can do politics. We need to use the Americans to fight the Shia."

He looked nervously at them: suggestions of talking to the Americans could easily have him labelled as traitor. "Where is the jihad and the mujahideen?" he continued. "Baghdad has become a Shia town. Our brothers are being slaughtered every day! Where are these al-Qaida heroes? One neighbourhood after another will be lost if we don't work on a strategy."

The taxi driver commander, who sat cross-legged on a sofa, joined in: "If the Americans leave we will be slaughtered." A big-bellied man waved his hands dismissively: "We will massacre the Shia and show them who are the Sunnis! They couldn't have done anything without the Americans' support." [....]

When the meeting was over the taxi driver went out to check the road, then the rest followed. "Don't look up, we could be monitored, Shia spies are everywhere," said the big man. The next day the taxi driver was arrested.

By December Abu Omar's worst fears were being realised. The Sunnis had become squeezed into a corner fighting two sides at the same time. But by then he had disappeared; his body was never found.

Baghdad was now divided: frontlines partitioned neighbourhoods into Shia and Sunni, thousands of families had been forced out of their homes. After each large-scale bomb attack on Shia civilians, scores of mutilated bodies of Sunnis were found in the streets. Patrolling militias and checkpoints meant that men with Sunni names dared not venture far outside their neighbourhoods, while certain Sunni areas came under the complete control of insurgent groups the Shura Council of the Mujahideen and the Islamic Army. The Sunni vigilante self-defence groups took shape as reserve units under the control of these insurgent groups.

Like Abu Omar before him, Abu Aisha, a mid-level Sunni commander, had come to understand that the threat from the Shia was perhaps greater than his need to fight the occupying Americans. Abu Aisha fought in Baghdad's western Sunni suburbs, he was a former NCO in the Iraqi army and followed an extreme form of Islam known as Salafism.[....]

On his mobile phone he proudly showed me grainy images of dead bodies lying in the street, their hands tied behind their backs . He claimed they were Shia agents and that he had killed them. "There is a new jihad now," he said, echoing Abu Omar's warning. "The jihad now is against the Shia, not the Americans."

In Ramadi there was still jihad against the Americans because there were no Shia to fight, but in Baghdad his group only attacked the Americans if they were with Shia army forces or were coming to arrest someone.

"We have been deceived by the jihadi Arabs," he admitted, in reference to al-Qaida and foreign fighters. "They had an international agenda and we implemented it. But now all the leadership of the jihad in Iraq are Iraqis." [....]

"It has become a business, they give you money to kill Shia, we take their houses and sell their cars," said Rami. "The Shia are doing the same. [....]

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