Monday, September 13, 2004

Juan Cole on the (Iraqi) politics of Fallujah

In terms of the political significance of the fighting in Fallujah, these comments by Juan Cole bring out a crucial point: This battle looks dramatically different to Iraqi Shiites and Kurds (about 80% of the population) than it does to Sunni Arabs (about 20%).

Most Iraqi Shiites are fed up with the Americans (for which it's hard to blame them). But, to the extent that the Sunni "insurgency" is strong, they seem to hate and fear that more. Otherwise, I suspect, the US presence in Iraq would long ago have become untenable.

Many of the Sunni insurgent groups, on the other hand, seem to be quite willing to push Iraq toward all-out civil war, and even seem to welcome it. This might seem a little counter-intuitive, given that they would be greatly outnumbered, but at least some of the Sunni insurgent groups may feel confident that they would win anyway (especially with help from outside Iraq), while others may simply not see a more attractive alternative. (And apparently some Sunni Arabs believe, unlike anyone else, that they're actually a majority.) One key question is whether or not some of the Sunni political forces can be presented with a combination of carrots and sticks that might convince them that a strategy of political accommodation makes more sense. (And, of course, whether such an attempt can and will be made by non-Sunni Iraqi political forces. At this point, no sensible person would expect any constructive political action from the people running the US occupation.)

Depending on a lot of imponderables, the after-effects of the current fighting could help push the different Iraqi ethno-religious & political forces toward some kind of rough accommodation ... or this split could turn out to be a harbinger of all-out civil war (something that hasn't really happened yet).

--Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. - the bolding in the first quoted passage is mine]

Juan Cole ("Informed Comment")

Friday, November 12, 2004

[ .... ]

Hannah Allam and Yasser Salihi discuss the US military raids on the houses of prominent leaders of the Association of Muslim Scholars, including Hareth al-Dhari, on Thursday. Al-Dhari is among the more popular Sunni Arab leaders, and has called for a boycott of the January elections, as well as vocally denouncing the US assault on Fallujah.

Later on Thursday, the US arrested Sheikh Mahdi al-Sumaidi, a leader of the Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) movement, who had denounced Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for declining to intervene in the Fallujah crisis. He had also apparently called for armed resistance against the Americans. The Americans raided the Ibn Taymiyah Mosque to get him (Ibn Taymiyah was a medieval preacher who tried to convince Muslims to be intolerant.)

Sistani's silence has been thunderous, as has that of most other Shiite leaders with the exception of Muqtada al-Sadr. Tellingly, there have been no sympathy demonstrations in cities like Basra or Nasiriyah. The Shiites know that the guerrillas in Fallujah had mostly supported Saddam, and that they are responsible for attacks on Shiites. Only if this fissure were overcome could an Iraqi nationalist movement emerge. Until then, the US can successfully divide and rule.

For more on Fallujah see Mark Levine's op-ed at and Tom Engelhardt's trenchant introduction.
posted by Juan @ 11/12/2004 06:04:28 AM

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Sistani calls for Peaceful Resolution of Fallujah Crisis

Az-Zaman: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite spiritual authority, called Friday for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Fallujah. His representative in Karabala, Ahmad al-Safi al-Najafi, said that the position of the grand ayatollah toward the bloody events in some regions of Iraq is that a peaceful resolution of the conflict is required. Speaking before thousands of worshippers at the Mosque of Imam Husain in Karbala, he said that the grand ayatollah had the same attitude to the fighting in Fallujah as he had had to that in Najaf, that is, the implementation of a peaceful solution on the basis of the sovereignty of the regime, law, and the evacuation of foreign forces and of gunmen with unlicensed arms. Sistani also condemned all loss of innocent life.

Sistani has been criticized recently for not speaking out against US attacks on Sunnis in the way he had with regard to Najaf, a Shiite center. Sistani likes to present himself as concerned for the welfare of all Iraqis, not just of his Shiite followers. But he has only called for peace in Fallujah when the fighting is already largely over with. That move will look cynical to a lot of Sunni Arabs.

posted by Juan @ 11/13/2004 06:16:11 AM