Quiet Ethnic Cleansing of Shiites by Sunni Jihadis?
A European reader with good Iraq contacts passes along a very interesting but frightening account of severe Sunni-Shiite tensions in the mixed areas around Baghdad.
I have occasionally seen reports in the Arabic press of Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers usurping Sunni mosques and attacking Sunnis. Given the hatred of Shiites characteristic of the Sunni jihadi groups and the Salafis or Sunni fundamentalists, it is entirely plausible that they are engaging in the same kind of activities where they are a majority in mixed areas.
[The brother of a well-placed friend, let’s call him “A.”] says what’s going on in Yusufiyah and other places in the south west of Baghdad, especially mixed Sunna Shia places, is a kind of “confessional cleansing”: the Sunni mujahidin [radical Islamist fighters] are attacking Shiites with the intention to drive them out of those areas adjacent to the “Sunni triangle” . . . A. is a very reasonable quiet man, even after his eldest son was killed some three weeks ago. He said also, that in areas where you have a Sunni majority (e.g. Abu Ghraib area) Shiites are already leaving. And: Mujahidin are killing people with every possible pretext, for example persons who were in American custody and were released after some days are killed as “collaborators”. With the consequence that nobody in Yusufiyah dares to go to the Americans or to the Iraqi government to report what is going on there. A. thinks that the mujahidin want to make a kind of “Sunni belt” around Bagdad.
In another sign of potential Sunni-Shiite ethnic conflict, ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports that there was a pro-Saddam demonstration in the Sunni-majority city of Samarra’ on Friday, with supporters of the deposed dictator parading posters of him and flying the Iraqi flag. They chanted “With spirit, with blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam!” Some gave AFP interviews saying the court trying Saddam is illegitimate. Samarra’ (pop. 214,000), which lies about 100 miles north of Baghdad in the Sunni heartland, also has a significant Shiite quarter, and given that Saddam killed so many Shiites, they must have been quite sullen over Friday’s demonstration. They are there because of the Shiite belief that the Twelfth Imam, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, was translated into a supernatural realm from that city. In the 19th century it was briefly the seat of the preeminent Shiite religious authority. But Samarra’s Shiites are even more exposed than those of Yusufiyah and probably aren’t holding counter-demonstrations.
Al-Hayat also says that the Shiite Shaikh Ra’id al-Kadhimi, preaching in the mosque of Imam Musa al-Kadhim in Kazimiyah in northeast Baghdad, attacked Saddam’s lawyers vehemently as mere apes who would not be able to escape the vengeance of the Iraqi people if they came to that country. After prayers, hundreds of worshippers held a demonstration, carrying placards calling for Saddam’s execution. The preachers loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr demanded Saddam’s execution, as did thousands of poor Shiites in East Baghdad who marched after Friday prayers. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s representative in Karbala, Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala’i, demanded that the trial be used to discover all the crimes of Saddam, especially those still hidden from the people.
The trial of Saddam clearly has the potential for deeply polarizing Iraq.
Meanwhile, Scott Wilson says that in the text of his Friday prayers sermon, Muqtada al-Sadr denounced the government of Iyad Allawi as a mere continuation of the Occupation, and said there has been a change “in name only.” He said the Mahdi Army, his militia, was the army of Iraq, and said, “I ask the Iraqis to keep rejecting the occupation and call for independence . . .”