Americans Confronted with an Islamicist Revival
Tuesday 22 April 2003
Informed by the Iranian Example, They Dread that Iraqis May 0aWant to Set Up a Theocracy
I don't think we'll see real elections organized for a 0along time.
- Phil Gordon, American expert.
The only problem with a democracy is the people. Washington, which has 0apromised to respect Iraqis' political choices, is discovering that they may want 0athe unacceptable: a Shi'ite theocracy, twin to the Teheran regime. Eleven years 0aago, the Americans were already frightened by this nightmare: in the wake of the 0afirst Gulf War, they gave up helping the Shi'ites topple Saddam Hussein, 0aallowing him to savagely repress the Shi'ite revolt.
Lost time. Today, it is as though the Americans and the Shi'ite clergy were 0aenlisted in a speed race to "win Iraqi hearts and minds". The latter are in the 0alead. For the last few days, their faithful have taken charge of vital services 0ain Baghdad: they distribute water and food, they punish looters, etc. Jay 0aGarner, the American governor who arrived yesterday in the Iraqi capital, has to 0atry to make up for lost time and attend to the population's urgent needs. Before 0aleaving Kuwait City where he had previously been
quartered, he had minimized 0athe risk of a political resurgence by Shi'ite Islamicists. He told the 0aWashington Post: "All we want is for (the Iraqis) to set up a democratic process 0athat results in a government which reflects the people's will freely expressed 0aby vote. The type of government, the type of process is up to them to define. 0aWe'll do whatever they want."
Whatever? In an interview with Egyptian television, Paul Wolfowitz, the 0aPentagon's number 2, began to place "limits" on the acceptable: "I think that 0acertain things are essential and I think the Iraqi people will agree: a 0agovernment that respects its people, that represents all its people, that 0apreserves the unity of Iraq, that respects its neighbors(...). Within these 0alimits, if [Iraq] behaves like a responsible member of the international
community and a government responsible for its people, whatever views it 0awishes to uphold, I think are its business."
Thinking they'll be able to defuse the threat of Islamicist resurgence, Paul 0aWolfowitz and his Pentagon friends try to promote a government led by the 0asecular and very westernized Shi'ite exile, Ahmed Chalabi. This weekend, the 0alatter, now in Baghdad, opined that the new Iraqi Constitution would have to 0aprevent the establishment of a theocracy. However, he did not exclude the 0apossibility that religious parties have a "role" in the future government in the 0asense that they would have voters. On Sunday, his right hand man, Mohamed Morsen 0aal-Zoubeidi, who has proclaimed himself mayor of Baghdad against American 0aadvice, declared for his part that the Constitution would be inspired by Islamic 0alaw...
Did the Americans foresee the danger of such Islamicist resurgence? "They had 0ato be aware of it since many people warned them of it before the war", reckons 0aPhil Gordon, Brookings Institute expert. "But they couldn't accept it: to sell 0athe war, they had to propagate optimistic declarations about the future 0ademocracy." According to him, the American administration is now going to have 0ato work overtime to develop other political movements. And it will take whatever 0atime is necessary to succeed. "I don't think we'll
see real elections 0aorganized for a long time, " he continues.
Sunday, two influential Senators, the Chair of the Foreign Relations 0aCommittee, Republican Richard Lugar (Indiana) and the Democrat Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut) clearly allowed it to be understood that Washington would never 0apermit an Islamic government close to the Iranians to be established in Baghdad. "To hold premature elections would be disastrous", Lugar declared on NBC, 0awithout excluding the possibility that it might be necessary to wait five years 0ato see a democracy in Iraq. Lugar reproaches
the Bush Administration with 0awaiting to attend to the needs of the Iraqi population, which has allowed the 0aShi'ite clergy to rush into the "vacuum".
Damoclean choice. The situation makes the Sunni very nervous. If the call to 0areligious radicalism creates rivalry and civil war threatens, Washington risks 0arapid confrontation with a Damoclean choice: clear out as quickly as 0apossible-which has already been suggested by White House and Pentagon officials 0ain the corridors - or imprison the most threatening members of the 0aopposition...i.e. extend the methods dear to Saddam Hussein.
Translation: TruthOut French language correspondent Leslie 0aThatcher
Go 0ato Original
Pilgrims Threaten Jihad Against American Forces
By Kim 0aSengupta
Thursday 24 April 2003
The Shia pilgrimage to Karbala, one of the most potent and symbolic in recent 0aIraqi history, took on a strident political and martial note yesterday with 0ademands for the establishment of an Islamic state and threats of a jihad against 0athe "American occupiers".
The one million people commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the 0agrandson of the Prophet Mohamed, were not only determined to take part in the 0arites banned by Saddam Hussein and his Baathist predecessors, but also to lay 0atheir claim for a Shia-led government.
Yesterday, the final prayers of the festival were different from the days 0athat have gone before, with thousands of young men arriving from the cities of a 0ade facto Shia confederacy, which is already taking shape.
The young men left their Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers in their vehicles 0aout of respect, they said, for the holiness of Karbala.
But later, covered in blood from flagellation with chains and knife wounds 0athey had ritually and frenziedly inflicted on themselves they roared their 0adesire to avenge Ayatollah al-Sadr, murdered by the regime in 1999, and fight 0afor a free, Islamic Iraq.
The show of strength was not aimed solely at the Americans or the Sunnis they 0aaccuse of oppressing them under the rule of the Baath party. Schisms have also 0abegan to appear among the Shias: the followers of the late Ayatollah Mohammed 0aSadiq al-Sadr - who now follow his son Muqtadar - are lining up against 0aAyatollah al-Hakim, who now runs Karbala, and Ayatollah Ali Hamid al-Sistani, in 0aNajaf.
Two Shia leaders, Abdul Majid al-Khoeli and Haidar al-Khalidar, have already 0abeen killed in the internecine strife at Najaf.
Ayatollah Hakim, who was supposed to address the pilgrims, failed to turn up. 0aHe was warned, said his followers, that he may be attacked.
The US military said they had foiled a plot by "a gang of five Baathists and 0aa member of al-Qa'ida" to blow up two mosques in Karbala. Captain Jimmie 0aCummings said the plan was to carry out the attack during the pilgrimage.
The pilgrims included Shias from Iran. Bookstalls carried out a busy trade in 0atracts from Ayatollah Khomeini and hardline religious leaders in Iran who have 0acalled on Iraqis to expel the US military from their country.
In sermons, imam after imam called on Iraqis to take the destiny of the 0acountry into their own hands, and the Shia to take their "rightful place" in 0adeciding how the country should be governed Some of the crowd carried banners 0asaying "Bush equals Saddam", "Down USA" and "Yes, Yes, Islam".
Representatives of the Hawza, the Shia religious body based in Najaf, which 0ais said to be co-ordinating the takeover of the administration of towns and 0acities by clerics, were present among the crowd.
One member, Abbas Nahidi, said: "Our job is to ensure that the people get the 0amessage of the Hawza. They should listen and act as our wise leaders advise. We 0aare talking to all our people in our cities to plan the action.
"The Hawza believe there should be elections so people can decide who should 0agovern us. We want an Islamic state. We do not want to be ruled by any foreign 0apowers including the United States."
Abbas Mohammed and Ali Faraya Hamid, two teachers from Kut, said an Islamic 0aadministration has already been set up in their city. Mr Hamid said: "The 0aAmericans did nothing after the Baath fled, so the religious leaders have 0astarted to run things. We are following what the Koran has taught us. We do not 0aneed foreigners to tell us what to do."
Rashid Mutanar Rahim, a former soldier, rolled up the sleeve of his left arm 0ato show a long scar. "I got that fighting in the first Bush war. I finished with 0athe army because I hated Saddam. But I am prepared to take part in a jihad now 0aagainst our American occupiers. I know dozens of people who feel the same 0away."
Yusef al-Hababi agreed."We are all prepared to take part in the jihad to 0athrow out the Americans. Look at the way they conducted this war."
Go 0ato Original
U.S. Warns Iraqis Against Claiming Authority in Void
By Michael R. 0aGordon and John Kifner
New York Times
Wednesday 23 April 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq The American military moved today to strip Baghdad's 0aself-appointed administrator of his authority and warned Iraqi factions not to 0atake advantage of the confusion and the political void in the country by trying 0ato grab power.
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, issued a 0aproclamation putting Iraq's politicians on notice, saying, "The coalition alone 0aretains absolute authority within Iraq." He warned that anyone challenging the 0aAmerican-led authority would be subject to arrest.
However, the American military presence is sparse in several areas of the 0acity. With nobody to stop them, long-banned groups ranging from Shiite radicals 0ato communists have been seizing villas in Baghdad and adorning them with their 0arespective emblems.
Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who will lead reconstruction 0aefforts, just arrived in Baghdad on Monday and has been traveling in the north 0athese past two days. General McKiernan and his force are supposed to provide the 0asecurity to enable rebuilding.
General Garner, traveling in the Kurdish-held northern region of Iraq, said 0atoday that anti-American sentiment would soon subside.
"The majority of people realize we are only going to stay here long enough to 0astart a democratic government for them," he said. "We're only going to stay here 0along enough to get their economy going." Once that was grasped, General Garner 0aadded, "In a very short order you'll see a change in the attitudes and the will 0aof the people themselves."
The toppling of Saddam Hussein two weeks ago has left a power vacuum. 0aAmerican military forces in Iraq continue to round up members of the old 0agovernment. Today they captured four former Iraqi officials, including two 0asenior members of Iraqi intelligence.
But American troops are still being 0akilled and wounded as they try to make Iraq safer and as political factions and 0aclerics rush to fill the void of authority.
Three American marines died today in an accident involving a rocket-propelled 0agrenade near the city of Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. Earlier this 0aweek, an Army soldier was killed south of Baghdad when he fell from a truck. "That's the big problem we're going to face now, accidents," a Marine captain 0asaid.
But outside the military sphere, large political problems loomed. Among those 0aengaged in the rush for power were two longtime Iraqi exiles. American concern 0aover the activities of these two men Muhammad Mohsen Zobeidi and Ahmad Chalabi has begun to grow, military officials said.
Mr. Zobeidi, who recently returned to Iraq, asserts that he was chosen to 0alead an executive council charged with administering Baghdad. He has reportedly 0asought to appoint a police chief, ignoring the police official installed by the 0aArmy's Third Infantry Division, and his supporters have appropriated government 0avehicles.
Mr. Zobeidi, who says his qualifications for running Baghdad include 0aparticipation in a disaster control management course arranged by the State 0aDepartment, has also proposed sending a delegation to represent Iraq's interest 0aat an OPEC meeting.
American officials said today that it was Mr. Zobeidi's efforts to expand his 0apowers that prompted the Americans to crack down.
Mr. Zobeidi was given a copy of General McKiernan's proclamation, American 0aofficial said, and he was informed by the American military today that he had no 0aauthority to appoint anybody.
He was asked to vacate his office at the Palestine Hotel and told to return 0aany property seized by his men. American troops have been stationed near the 0ahotel to provide a measure of security for the reporters who are staying there. 0aThe concern was that Mr. Zobeidi would portray the deployments as indications 0athat the American military was actually there to protect him and to support his 0apolitical aspirations.
Mr. Zobeidi has been meeting with traditional sheiks, with tribal chieftains 0ain gold-embroidered robes and headdresses and with men in business suits. His 0aentourage now includes police and army officers in their old uniforms, the 0ashoulder boards spattered with stars and eagles.
Today, he held a meeting to hear neighborhood grievances, which, as 0agatherings here do, quickly turned into a cacophony of shouting about relatives 0alost under Mr. Hussein, seized property since his fall, a lack of security and 0athe loss of electricity. "I don't have a magic wand," Mr. Zobeidi said at 0aseveral points.
Then he was surrounded by aides and flanked by a Sunni tribal sheik and a 0aShiite clergyman whose black turban marked him as a descendent of the Prophet 0aMuhammad.
The entourage jumped in and out of a caravan of cars and pickup trucks, 0astopping at a fire station, a water purification plant and a hospital. It also 0avisited the newly seized headquarters of the Kurdish Democratic Party, headed by 0athe Barzani clan, as well as the Assyrian Democratic Movement, equipped with a 0apurple flag and militiamen in camouflage.
Such is Iraq today: a mesmerizing labyrinth of conflicting interests 0aoperating in something close to a void as American generals strive to maintain a 0aminimum of order and a retired American general speaks of building a stable, 0ademocratic future.
The American military is also keeping a close eye on the activities of Mr. 0aChalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, who has ensconced himself in 0aa club in Baghdad and is seeking to play an important role in Iraq's effort to 0arestore civil authority.
Mr. Chalabi has enjoyed strong support from Defense Department officials, who 0asay he is committed to democracy in Iraq, a pro-Western foreign policy and the 0aMiddle East peace process.
Mr. Chalabi's role could be important as Iraqi political figures meet over 0athe next several weeks to discuss arrangements for a temporary administration as 0aa stepping stone to a democratic government. Some Bush administration officials, 0ahowever, have been skeptical that Mr. Chalabi, who spent the past few decades in 0aexile, would attract much of a following in iraq. And allied military officials 0ahave been concerned that Mr. Chalabi's men are throwing their weight around to 0abuild a political base for their leader.
Mr. Chalabi has about 700 fighters in his entourage who were flown to the 0aIraqi air base at Tallil several weeks ago by the American military at the 0arequest of Pentagon officials. American forces then scoured the country for arms 0aand ammunition to equip the fighters so that they could participate in the 0acampaign to oust Mr. Hussein.
American military lawyers ruled that the weapons could be provided to Mr. 0aChalabi's men without Congressional approval because they were not intended for 0aa foreign government but for a fighting force attached to the American military. 0aSpecial Forces were assigned to supervise the fighters, who were officially 0acalled the Free Iraqi Freedom Fighters.
But the fighting drew to a close before the fighters could join the fray. 0aAfter American forces took Baghdad, some of Mr. Chalibi's fighters helped 0acapture an aide to Mr. Hussein who was on the allies' most wanted list. But 0aAmerican officials are also worried that some are being reorganized as a private 0asecurity force for Mr. Chalabi, and they suspect them of setting up their own 0acheckpoints and even detaining Iraqis.
Just a few weeks after helping establish Mr. Chalabi's force, allied 0acommanders are now considering a plan either to demobilize the force or put them 0aformally under allied command, officials said.
Maj. Gen. Albert Whitley, the senior British officer in General McKiernan's 0acommand, put General McKiernan's edict into effort at a meeting today with 0arailway representatives.
The allies are trying to restore Iraq's basic services, and its railroad is 0aone of them. The allies are trying to fix the track and ensure that workers' 0asalaries are paid. The aim is to use the railroad to move fuel to power plants 0aand to move food north from the port of Umm Qasr.
As General Whitley opened the meeting at the central train station in 0aBaghdad, he was told by his Iraqi counterparts that Mr. Chalabi's 0arepresentatives had been in touch with them and had been taking credit for 0arestoring the railroad.
Such claims follow a pattern, allied officials say, in which supporters of 0aMr. Zobeidi and Mr. Chalibi have sought to claim credit for allied efforts to 0arebuild the country in order to build political support.
"Nobody has authority unless General McKiernan says so," General Whitley 0aadvised. "Mr. Zobeidi and Mr. Chalabi have no authority. If we say you run the 0arailroad, you run the railroad. If anybody comes and tells you differently, tell 0aus. We will ask them to stop interfering. If we have to, we will arrest them."
But after General Whitley left, a vehicle appeared and aides to Mr. Chalabi 0agot out, one witness said. They urged the railroad representatives to work with 0aMr. Chalabi, according to Thaibit M. Gharib, the director of the railroad.
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