Sunni Leader Blames Shiites for Assassinations
Hareth al-Dhari, a leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and an important hard line Sunni cleric charged Wednesday that the Shiite Badr Corps paramilitary was behind a wave of killings of Sunni mosque preachers and worshippers. Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization (the political wing) denied the charges and denounced al-Dhari for hate speech.
I’m watching al-Dhari on al-Jazeera, and he is angrily attacking the Badr Corps. He is saying that the same forces that are besieging Palestinian villages and ethnically cleansing the Palestinians [on the West Bank] are now attacking Sunni Arabs in Iraq. That is, he is alleging a secret deal between Shiite leaders and the Israelis, both of whom want to repress the Sunni Arabs. [This is of course a ridiculous conspiracy theory, but it is alarming to hear it publicly articulated by an influential leader.]
The press conference of the Sunni clerics was accompanied by a street demonstration by Sunnis, which looks pretty big on television.
In opinion polls, al-Dhari’s approval rating Iraq-wide is about 25%. Since Sunni Arabs are about 17%, this statistic suggests that he is wildly popular among Sunnis and admired by a few Iraqis beyond that group, as well.
The Badr Organization ran as a political party in the January 30 elections. It has a bloc of seats in the parliament, and is important on several southern provincial councils. Badr, e.g., supplies the deputy governor of Najaf province, which has 800,000 or so residents. The Badr Corps began as the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. It was headed for years by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite political coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, which now dominates parliament.
Rumors have been flying in the Sunni community that Badr has infiltrated the Interior Ministry (home in Iraq of the secret police) and is using its new governmental muscle to ethnically cleanse Sunnis from mixed Baghdad neighborhoods.
The audio file attributed to Sunni radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that was released on Wednesday accused the Shiites of having allied themselves with the Christian crusaders against the Sunni community. The hard line Sunni attempt to configure the Shiites of Iraq as actually foreigners (Iranians, or proto-Zionists, or lackeys of the Christians) aims at re-marginalizing them. Since they are now in political control, and are not giving it up, the contradictions are now sharpening at an alarming rate.