The Case of the Three Dead Clerics
Al-Zaman and Al-Jazeerah.net say that two important figures in the Sunni fundamentalist Association of Muslim Scholars [Board of Muslim Clerics] were assassinated on Sunday and Monday.
Hazim al-Zaidi was found in front of the Sajjad Mosque in Sadr City, a largely Shiite area. Al-Zaidi had been imam to the small Sunni community in East Baghdad. He was kidnapped Sunday, then released, but then showed up dead. Another AMS cleric, Shaikh Muhammad Jadu’, was cut down as he left the al-Kawthar Mosque in al-Bayya’, west Baghdad, a Sunni area.
Likewise, on Monday Abu Jihad al-Zamili, a commander in the Badr Corps, the paramilitary of the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was killed by assassins along with his wife as he was driving about 20 km. north of Karbala.
In other news, guerrillas detonated a car bomb in Mosul, killing 3 persons. Monotheism and Holy War (al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad) took credit for beheading an American, and for taking 10 Turkish truck drivers hostage. Also in Mosul, guerrillas fired on a Turkish Red Crescent team heading to help victims of the fighting in Tal Afar, wounding five Turks. Guerrillas killed an American soldier near Sharqat in the Sunni Arab heartland. And, as usual, the US used tanks and warplanes to bomb Fallujah, with the number of resulting casualties under dispute (the US says it killed 2, other sources say 3). al-Hayat says that on Sunday evening 3 officers in the Iraqi National Guard were killed by a rocket propelled grenade. In Beiji, two corpses were discovered, of Iraqis who worked at the nearby American military base.
The Association of Muslim Scholars or AMS, headed by Sheikh Hareth al-Dhari, has in some instances been linked to militants, but usually has maintained enough independence of them to act as a broker between them and the Baghdad government. The AMS has announced that it will boycott the elections scheduled for January. It has emerged as the most respected and influential of the Sunni Muslim religious parties in Iraq, and seems to be the Sunnis’ answer to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
The location of the murder of the Sunni cleric Hazim al-Zaidi, in Shiite Sadr City, might cast suspicion on the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, or at least some militant faction within it. There has in fact been friction between Sadrists and Sunnis in the past year and a half. The Sadrists have occupied Sunni mosques in the Shiite south, for instance, and at one point seemed poised to usurp most Sunni endowment property in Basra, provoking a demonstration some 15,000 strong among minority Sunnis in that southern city in summer of 2003. That Zaidi was the leader of the Sunnis in Sadr City may have made his activities provocative to the intensely nativist Sadr movement.
But since the simultaneous siege of Fallujah and Najaf in spring of 2004 by the US, the Sunni fundamentalists or Salafis and the Sadrist Shiites had appeared to make up. They sent each other food aid, and the Sunnis put up posters of Muqtada al-Sadr in Fallujah (ordinarily Sunni fundamentalists look at Shiites as a sort of polytheistic heresy no closer to true Islam than is Hinduism). So it would be strange if the Sadrists, who are still under pressure from the US, should suddenly decide to pick a fight with the Sunnis. Or at least it would be strange if this murder were ordered by the top clerics of the Sadr Movement.
Since the second victim, Shaikih Jadu’, was killed in a Sunni area west of Baghdad, moreover, whoever did the deed is not based only in Shiite Sadr City, and so the argument for a Sadrist perpetrator is weakened.
Al-Hayat notes that the Sadr Movement leaders roundly condemned the killing of the clerics. They were buried in Baqubah, and Sadrists accompanied the funeral procession. If they did it, they are certainly brazen.
On the other hand, the Sadrists blame the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq for spying on them for the Americans in Najaf (so the Sadrists say), and the Mahdi Army has serious issues with the Badr Corps.
The Baathists have been behind a lot of assassinations of emerging politicians in Iraq who might benefit from the end of the Baath and the emergence of a new Iraq. I personally believe that the Baath got Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on Aug. 29, 2003. And that is who I would blame for the assassination of Aqilah al-Hashimi, a woman member of the Interim Governing Council, in fall of the same year. So it is possible that militantly secular, ultra-nationalist Baathists might be attempting to make sure that AMS does not benefit from the destruction of the Baath party and the marginalization of former Baathists.
The Baathists hate the Badr Corps, which used to carry out terrorist actions against them from Iran in the 1990s.
Still, the Baathists and the Sunni fundamentalists seem to have forged at least a tacit alliance in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, so it is a little odd that they should take out after Sunni leaders at this juncture. It is less odd that they should have killed al-Zamili, the Shiite Badr Corps commander.
The other possibility is Monotheism and Holy War, the terrorist organization based in Jordan and Germany that began as a rival to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The letter attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last January by the CIA spoke of attempting to provoke Sunni-Shiite warfare as a way to ensure that American-dominated Iraq was destabilized. I dislike the US official tendency to blame most violence in Iraq on Zarqawi and other outsiders. I think 99% of it is Iraqi in character. But killing Shaikh al-Zaidi right in front of a Shiite mosque, or dumping his body there, does seem to be a deliberate provocation of the sort Tawhid earlier spoke of.
Likewise, it might have been hoped that the Shiites would blame Sunnis for al-Zamili’s death, just as it would have been obvious that Sunnis would blame Shiites for al-Zaidi’s.
A conspiracy theory might cast suspicion on the Allawi government, which would potentially benefit from driving a wedge between AMS and the Sadrists, and from weakening the Badr Corps. But I don’t think Sunni-Shiite riots would help the stability of Iraq, and can’t imagine Allawi is so foolish as to risk provoking them.
So, I think the murders were either done by more militant Sadrists or by Monotheism and Holy War. Of course, it is possible that the three murders were not all commited by the same group, but I suspect they were. And I would lean toward blaming Tawhid.
Meanwhile, Borzou Daragahi of AP argues that virtually all Sunni clerics, and not just AMS, preach jihad against the Americans. He notes that they do not always come out and say it, but that they are skillful in weaving pro-jihad statements into their sermons through allusion and intimation. He says:
‘ They cite a long litany of American missteps: everything from the stalled reconstruction effort, the killing of innocent Iraqis during combat operations and the abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners to soldiers entering mosques without taking off their boots, entering women’s quarters during house raids and patting-down of female detainees.
They also say they believe that force is the only language the Americans understand, that Americans refuse to listen to Iraqis’ peaceful demands.
Were it not for the resistance throughout the Sunni triangle following last year’s war, they say, the now-dissolved 25-member Iraqi Governing Council would not have been established; were it not for the April uprisings in Fallujah and the Shi’ite south, Mr Allawi’s interim government would not have been established; and were it not for the ongoing violence in Baghdad and the rest of the country, elections would not be set in January.
‘Those who called for political solutions have been repeatedly embarrassed and outdone by those wanting military solutions,’ says Prof Bashar. ‘
Actually, if what the Sunni militants wanted was only elections, they could have had that without blowing so many things up. It seems to me that they were assured when Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani brought over 100,000 protesters into the streets of Baghdad in January.
I don’t think they primarily want elections, which would bring the Shiites and Kurds to power. I think they want the Americans gone so as to find a way to regain Sunni Arab supremacy in the country. That actually makes them more dangerous, because if that is their motive then they will likely go on blowing up things for a long time to come. It is highly unlikely that they can put the Shiites back in a box. So, even if the Iraqi public rises up and gets rid of the Americans, thereafter they are likely to turn on one another unless the Sunni Arabs can throw up leaders that can deal with the new situation in which they are a minority. They haven’t given good evidence of an ability to do that as yet.