*A Sunni group in Basra (pop. 1.3 million) is calling for massive Sunni demonstrations after Friday prayers today, in protest of the occupation on Wednesday by the Sadr Movement of a building housing the headquarters of the Sunni Pious Endowments administration (-al-Hayat). In a telephone call from Kuwait to al-Hayat, the Sunni activist warned of a big sectarian disturbance in Basra if the situation was not rectified. Haqqi Ismail Abd al-Rahman, the Sunni Endowment administrator, told the paper that hundreds of Sadr Movement members invaded the building and occupied the offices, which contain the files for 90% of the Sunni endowment property in Basra.
He expressed the fear that their long-term goal was to usurp the mosques and properties of the Sunni community and to add them to their Hawzah (Shiite religious establishment). A meeting of three hundred men at the Sunni Grand Mosque in Basra on Thursday morning to consider the situation was harassed by Sadr Movement hecklers, who shouted sectarian slurs, with one sermonizing at them that they were infidels. Haqqi Ismail said his group had complained to the city council and to the British authorities, so far without effect. They had also contacted the office of Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf but had heard back nothing. Thus, the plans for a big demonstration, which will draw on the congregations of the city’s 150 Sunni mosques.
Shiites have reportedly usurped large numbers of Sunni mosques in South Iraq, seeing them as attempts by the Baath regime to plant Sunnism in Shiite soil, a plot that can now be safely reversed. These usurpations have been condemned by Grand Ayatollah `Ali Sistani, but the radical Sadr Movement clearly feels differently about the matter. Especially in Basra, some minority Sunnis loyal to Saddam brutalized and terrorized the Shiite population, and for some Sadrists this move may be the beginning of payback.
Just to explain the “endowments.” It is a custom in Muslim societies to dedicate the proceeds of land or other forms of wealth to religious purposes, such as the building and upkeep of a mosque. Property dedicated to a pious endowment is theoretically alienated for this purpose in perpetuity. Families often retain oversight rights, and fees, from the endowments, or give these to clerics. Many Sunni clergymen in Basra may depend for their livelihood on endowment income, especially given the collapse of the Sunni state, so that usurping it would bankrupt the Basra Sunni religious establishment. Usurping mosques leaves believers with nowhere to gather and pray publicly, which is a way of denying them a place in the public sphere.
There is, of course, a grave danger that Sunnis and Shiites in other parts of Iraq will hear about this dispute and become polarized over such issues, so that the fighting could spread. The British authorities should move quickly to resolve this problem. The problem, of course, is that if they come into armed conflict with Sadrist militias, that could also be destabilizing.
*The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies say that armed criminal gangs pose a severe threat both to Coalition troops in Iraq and to international aid workers. The spokesman in Amman, according to Al-Sharq al-Awsat, maintained that there were 100,000 persons in these gangs throughout the country and that they came largely from the hardened prison population released by the Baath regime and the war. They engage in looting, burglary, kidnapping, etc., and began by concentrating on government buildings and institutions but have now branched out.
*AFP reports an opinion poll taken in Baghdad by a British concern: “And an opinion poll released in Britain found that half the people of Baghdad believe the US and Britain were right to invade Iraq, but most say the city is a more dangerous place since Saddam’s regime fell on April 9. The YouGov survey, commissioned by Britain’s independent Channel 4 News network and The Spectator magazine, found:
50 percent thought the war was right
27 percent said it was wrong.
47 percent said that they thought the conflict was about oil
41 percent said it was to help Israel
23 percent who said it was to liberate the Iraqi people a
6 percent who thought it was to deal with Iraq’s pursuit of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
47 percent expressed no preference for rule by the Americans or rule under Saddam Hussein,
29 said they preferred to be ruled by the US
9 percent favored being ruled by Saddam.
75 percent said that Baghdad was more dangerous since the US invasion.
One can always read statistics in various ways, but it could be concluded that only 29 percent of Baghdadis are positively happy to be ruled for any length of time by the Americans; that 75 percent don’t think the Americans are doing a very good job of providing security; that most people are cynical about American motives, and less than a quarter think the war was fought for the sake of liberating the Iraqi people; and that only half are even glad the war was fought at all.
*This news item from IRNA seemed to me awfully weird: “AFTAB-E YAZD:
“Police calls on people not to visit Iraq”
Police Wednesday called on Iranians not to visit Iraq due to the
ongoing sensitive and critical situation in the neighboring country,
adding that 34 Iranians, who had ventured into Iraq, were killed
during the recent days there.”
Some 34 Iranians were killed in Iraq in “recent days”?? Doing what? Are they getting in the middle of firefights between the Badr Brigade and Sadrist militias? Idle visitors cannot be being killed at this rate!
*The continued lack of security in Iraq is severely impeding the movement of women, who fear going out because they might be kidnapped or raped.
This article is an excellent corrective to the US conservative line (by white males) that things are getting better every day in Anglo-American Iraq.