Arrest Warrant for Harith al-Dhari of AMS;
Higher Education Abductees Tortured;
Militias Capture 14 Western Security Guards
Militiamen in southern, largely Shiite Iraq took 14 private security guards captive, employees of the Crescent Security Group. Four of these civilians were thought to be Americans.
Four US troops were announced killed on Thursday, three of them in Diyala Province. Reuters also reports other political violence, including bombings in the capital and the spraying of bakery workers and customers with machine gun fire.
The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for Shaikh Harith al-Dhari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and a major Sunni Arab clerical figure. Al-Dhari in opinion polling is among the most popular Sunni figures in the country. The AMS, which he heads, has been accused of having strong links to the guerrilla groups, including the 1920 Revolution Brigades. This arrest warrant, coming after the attack by Interior Ministry Special Police Commandos on the Sunni-led Ministry of Higher Education and recent kidnappings by the Sunni Arab guerrilla groups of Shiites– all this activity points to a war among Iraq’s major parties, many of whom have parts of the government under their control.
I was sent a copy of an Arabic fatwa by the Association of Muslim Scholars that said that since so many Sunni families had been forced out of Shiite neighborhoods into “our” neighborhoods, and since there was no way to house them, these Sunni Arab refugees should be put up in the homes of Shiite families who had fled Sunni neighborhoods. I guess the implication might have been to encourage an ethnic cleansing of Shiites in largely Sunni neighborhoods, so as to free up housing for internall displaced Sunnis.
Minister of Higher Education Abd Dhiyab al-Ujayli said Thursday that he had heard reports that torture and the breaking of limbs had been inflicted on the some 70 hostages still being held from Tuesday’s kidnapping of 140 persons from the ministry building in Karrada, Baghdad. The government of PM Nuri al-Maliki maintains that 40 were kidnapped and only 5 remained hostages.
The comparison that leapt into my mind at this prospect of a cabinet minister so at odds with his own prime minister was to Kabul in 1995. Then, the prime minister, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, fought a destructive battle for control of the Afghan capital against the forces of the president, Burhanuddin Rabbani. Much of the city was destroyed and an estimated 60,000 were killed. The Sunni-Shiite battle within the government (and without)is wreaking destruction on a similar scale, though the buildings in Baghdad have not been hit so hard because the opposing militias cannot fight set piece battles as long as the US military is there.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that a Sunni Arab leader of the Iraqi Accord Front, Adnan Dulaimi, asked the Sunni world for help in stopping Iranian interference in Iraq, “lest Baghdad become a capital for the Safavids.” He spoke at a commemoration in Amman of the centenary of the birth of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Dulaimi’s party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the IAF coalition, is a direct descendant of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which established a branch in Mosul in the 1930s. The Safavids were the Iranian Shiite dynasty that pushed Iranians to convert to Shiisma from 1501 forward. The Safavids actually did rule Baghdad 1508-1534 and again in the late 1500s and early 1600s under Shah Abbas. They were succeeded by the Sunni Ottoman Empire, which favored the Sunni Arab population and so made it an elite, something George W. Bush tried to undo. The Sunnis are not going quietly. When the Ottomans took back over from Shah Abbas in the 1600s, they mounted investigations and persecutions of the Iraqi Arab Shiites, whom they coded as “acem” or Qizilbash, i.e. as Safavid Iranians. That is, Dulaimi’s rhetoric in Amman has a pedigree going back at least to the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s and 1600s. But it is important to note that in the 20th century, Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq was rare, and Iraqi national identity grew in strength.
CIA Director Michael Hayden gave testimony that strikes me as refreshingly frank on Thursday. In fact, it is ironic that the supposedly public and straightforward politicians and cabinet members, such as Cheney and Rice, mostly retail fairy tales to the US public. But the chief of the country’s clandestine intelligence agency? He’s telling it like it is. He revealed that daily attacks in Iraq are up from 70 in January to 100 last spring after the Samarra bombing, and then to 180 a day last month. He also said that there were only 1300 foreign al-Qaeda volunteers fighting in Iraq, whereas the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement was “in the low tens of thousands” strong. If there are 40,000 guerrillas, then “al-Qaeda” is only 3.25 percent of the “insurgency.” That is why Dick Cheney’s and other’s Chicken Little talk about al-Qaeda taking over Sunni Arab Iraq is overblown, at least at the moment. Most Iraqi fundamentalists are Salafis, which is a different sort of movement than al-Qaeda. And the Baathists and ex-military and tribal cells cannot be disregarded by any means.