Shaikh Muhammad Al Fartousi Friday

*Shaikh Muhammad al-Fartousi, the Friday prayers leader of the al-Hikmah Mosque in Shiite East Baghdad is one of many clergymen who have called for demonstrations against the US occupation in Baghdad and in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Al-Fartousi say he expects a turn-out of about a million demonstrators.

This demonstration appears to come in response to the decision of ORHA head Paul Bremer to have the US administer Iraq directly rather than turning many day to day matters over to a leadership council. Bremer is now denying that there has been any change in plan, but he calls the leadership council only an “interim authority” and says it will have a purely consultative role. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the al-Da`wa Party both have representatives on the council, initially appointed by Bremer’s predecessor, Jay Garner. The largest and by all accounts most important Shiite movement, the Sadrists, who follow Muqtada al-Sadr (al-Fartousi belongs to this group) have refused to have anything to do with the US administration.

The Shiites complain that the US is planning a long-term occupation and direct administration of their country, and that US officials have not contacted the main Shiite religious leaders. Astonishingly, this last charge appears actually to be true. US officials are lamely replying that they’ve been busy restoring security and services, and so haven’t had time to visit the main clerics in Najaf and Karbala. (They haven’t actually done a very good job of restoring security and services, and few political tasks could have been more important than reaching out to the main Shiite ayatollahs!)

Al-Fartousi is quoted as saying, “We will keep making our demands until we achieve them and, if not, we will continue peaceful rebellion and expose their glossy slogans. We don’t need a foreign man to run our country.”

Al-Fartousi and the other Sadrists really want Bremer gone on a short time schedule, and probably the Supreme Council feels the same way, now that it has again been sidelined. A spokesman for the Supreme Council, according to AFP, referred to a campaign of “civil disobedience” if the US “breaks its promises” about moving quickly to an Iraqi interim government. We’ll know by Monday evening EST how the demonstrations went. I am sure the US army won’t let itself be suckered into acting provocatively.

*The scandalous rumors spread about US troops by Shiite cleric Kadhim al-‘Ibadah (Abade), prayer leader of the Imam al-Sadr Mosque of East Baghdad (congregation: 30,000) are discussed in a smart article by Warren Richie of the Christian Science Monitor. Al-‘Ibadah said that US soldiers were using night vision goggles to see through Iraqi women’s clothing and were passing out candy to children with pornographic wrappers. The sermon, full of these ridiculous falsehoods, surprised the US troops, who have been trying to build a positive relationship with the Shiite leadership in Sadr City. When they complained, they were told that the sermon had not been approved by the religious establishment in Najaf, and that henceforth sermons should be submitted for approval first.

But what is almost certainly the case is that al-`Ibadah is a Sadrist, and is not obedient to Ali Sistani, the head of the Najaf establishment. He is not going to submit his sermons for approval. Sistani hasn’t appointed the East Baghdad prayer leaders. The young firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr has. The US should probably back Sistani in an attempt to get his men in control of those mosques, but this could lead to a confrontation with the militant and well-armed Sadrists. Apparently the US army is being fed the polite fiction that the prayer leaders are somehow under Sistani’s authority. This is only theoretically true. Scholastics often speak as though the theory was the reality; here, it is not.

*Al-Hayat is reporting that Moroccan officials have identified 8 of the suicide bombers who struck Casablanca. They say these 8 were all Moroccans recently returned from “foreign countries” (Belgium seems to be one such), and that they belonged to radical organizations such as “The Jihadi Salafis,” “The Straight Path” and “Excommunication and Holy Flight.” The last is actually an Egyptian fringe offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that was implicated in both the assassination of Sadat and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Salafism is a Protestant-type reform movement that seeks to go back to the original Islamic sources and slough off medieval glosses (in fact, contemporary Salafis often fall victim to a quite modern fundamentalism that isn’t like classical Islam at all). All three groups believe it is legitimate to kill noncombatants who “opposed the implementation of the holy Law,” that is, who are not in favor of a Taliban-type Inquisitorial interpretation of the shariah or Islamic law.

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