Al Dhari It Would Be Yet Another Piece

Al-Dhari: It would be Yet another Piece of Stupidity for the US to go after Muqtada;

US Troops Raid Sadrist Conference in Hilla

Harith Sulaiman al-Dhari, the head of the Board of [Sunni] Muslim Clerics in Iraq, gave an interview with ash-Sharq al-Awsat in Cairo that appears in the Monday issue. He said that his board supports the plan of special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for Iraq to have a caretaker government of technocrats who are not drawn from the present Interim Governing Council. He says it will have more credibility that way, and accuses the IGC of cherishing sectarianism and putting their narrow interests above those of other Iraqi groups.

(Al-Dhari’s group of conservative to radical Sunni clerics was excluded from the Interim Governing Council. At one point last fall, a member of the Board of Muslim Clerics was arrested by the Coalition for stockpiling arms in a mosque).

Al-Dhari condemned US threats to kill or capture radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He said the policy was prepared by the US beforehand to enable it to hit Fallujah. It saw Muqtada as an impediment, al-Dhari said, because he is a nationalist, unlike most of the other Shiite leaders, who have been willing to cooperate with the US. “Here I say that were they to implement their threat to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr, that would add yet another act of stupidity to all the other acts of stupidity that the Occupation forces have committed. For Muqtada al-Sadr has many followers in Shiite circles, and therefore any attempt to assassinate him might lead to unhappy consequences.”

Although the US has backed off going after Muqtada for the moment, the New Zealand Herald reports that US troops did go in to arrest a key aide to Muqtada al-Sadr in Hilla on Sunday, provoking bloodshed: ‘ Hilla residents said the soldiers stormed a meeting of religious students and tribal representatives in the city, about 100km south of Baghdad, on Saturday, and opened fire. Television footage of the site of the raid early on Sunday showed pools of blood and human remains, as well as bullet holes pockmarking interior walls of the building where the meeting was held. An aide to Sadr — whose followers rose up last month against US troops in Baghdad and allied forces in southern Iraq after the arrest of one of his lieutenants — said the raid was part of a US campaign against the cleric, who has denounced the occupation of Iraq. “It is in a pattern of humiliation of the men of religion,” Sadr’s aide Sheikh Qays al-Khazali told Reuters Television in the Shi’ite shrine city of Najaf. “The occupation forces continue to violate human rights and the rights of the Iraqi people.”

As for al-Dhari, BBC World Monitoring gives us this from AFP: ‘ “A national congress will be held on 8 May to bring together a large number of Iraqi personalities opposed to the occupation, including Islamists, Arab nationalists and independents,” he told a news conference in Cairo. “Our first task as Iraqis is to work for the unity of the people of Iraq, and then to work to put an end to the occupation through all legitimate means.” (AFP 1200 gmt 2 May 04) ‘

This nationalist/pan-Islamist solidarity between a hard line Sunni like al-Dhari and a radical Shiite like Muqtada is a remarkable phenomenon, which has emerged as a strong trend in Iraq during the recent uprisings against the CPA. (For those who read French, my recent article on this subject in Le Monde Diplomatique is now available on the Web.

In contrast, ash-Sharq al-Awsat’s Washington correspondent, Rima Nazih Saidani, was treated to a Pentagon briefing recently in which a high American official alleged to her that Muqtada al-Sadr had tried to dominate all the Shiites, but had failed because his movement is a small one, and that he is seeking to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war, in which he will also fail.

Muqtada no doubt would like to dominate Iraqi Shiism, but his movement is not small. His followers have sometimes usurped Sunni religious property, but they have also cooperated with hard line Sunnis at Fallujah and elsewhere. The picture is complicated. Why not just sketch it as complicated instead of making these black and white pronouncements?

And, al-Dhari’s analysis is perfectly correct. If the US does move against Muqtada, it will risk provoking a lot of turmoil of a sort that may not die down for a while.

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