Thursday, April 10, 2008

Remarks by the IAI spokesman (Updated)

Haqq news agency summarizes remarks by Ibrahim Al-Shammari the spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, an important group at the Islamist end of the Sunni-resistance spectrum in a recent interview with AlJazeera. I haven't found a transcript yet, but I think even the outline, particularly the remarks on the Shiites and the Mahdi Army, although fragmentary, are interesting by way of comparison with the treatment of this by Dhari, Moqtada himself, and the southern tribal confederation. Shammari's stance, while carefully distinguishing "Shiite" from "Iranian", is unabashedly Sunni-centered, without the stress on positive reconciliation and the unity of all Iraqis, and so on.

The summary begins by quoting this theme: "The basic choice that the Sunni people have committed themselves to is resistance, and they have taken on their shoulders the defense of the entire country, and its liberation".
He said Iraq is being subjected to two occupations, the American and the Iranian, the worse of the two is the Iranian occupation, and the resistance is determined to liberate the country from all types of occupation. And he said Maliki represents the Iranian occupation in its essence, and the Americans represent the external appearance.

He said there is no difference between America and Iran in the root of the mission in Iraq, and America welcomes what Iran is doing. The difference between them has to do with respective shares and hegemony in the Gulf region. Iran, with its well-known craftiness, has been succeeded in attaching its imperialist project to that American one.
There follow a couple of remarks about the proposed bilateral security agreement, US aiming for "creative chaos" in Iraq, and the coming elections, but in the summary is very short and even more cryptic than the foregoing. Then there is this summary by the Haqq agency of his remarks on the Shiites and the Mahdi Army, which is what I wanted to highlight, for what it is worth.
As for the Shiites and their role in the resistance, Shammari said the American occupation, when it came, brought with them Shiite parties. And the Shiite religious authorities helped [the occupation] and issued a fatwa banning resistance to the Americans. On the other hand the Arab Shiites were exposed to intellectual terrorism, and some of them began to feel the danger of the Iranian occupation.

And as for the Mahdi Army, he said the Sunni resistance welcomed what they did in the beginning when they struck the Americans, but after that they began to liquidate those who stood against the occupation, and they exposed the Sunni people to killings and expulsions. As or what is going on now in Basra and elsewhere in the South, this is a dispute between them and the Badr organization.

He said the role of the militias in Iraq is destructive.
By contrast, Shammari said the relationship with AlQaeda has improved.
He said the resistance today is in its best condition, with a clear vision, and they have gone beyond the stage of improvisation, with the resistance factions in agreement as to the vision, and there aren't any differences between them. As for the dispute between them and AlQaeda, he said that is methodological and not political. He said the fighting between them is better than before, and he said: We are in favor of every call for rallying together and for getting closer together.
The remarks on all of these points, at least in this summary, obviously aren't as clear as they could be, but for now it is worth noticing that:

(1) With Shammari we seem to be in a different mental world from that of Dhari, but at the same time there is no jumping to conclusions. Recall that it was Dhari himself who urged a halt to the Qaeda/resistance fighting with his remark about the young Iraqis in AQ: "We are of them and they are of us". So a lot depends on what you mean by these terms. Another point is that Shammari's is a military function, and Dhari's a political one. So hopefully they will be able to work out a politically-guided process, as opposed to the pair-of-loose-cannons", Bush-Petraeus kind of thing.

(2) The Christian Science Monitor story today based on an interview with someone who said he was an IAI gunrunner, was headed "Sunni insurgents still aim to oust US, Shiites." That's nonsensical, misleading, and pretty clearly intended to fan the "inevitable civil war" psychosis that is at the core of the continued-occupation argument. You might think it was just a slip, but in the article itself there is this: "One IAI goal is to turn Iraq into a state similar to Saudi Arabia, which adheres to a puritanical form of Sunni Islam", another stunning piece of wartime propaganda. The political views of the resistance factions are worth studying if anyone could do so, and they range on a spectrum from secular to various shades of Islamist. But to say that IAI = Saudi Arabia, without any justification, and without any mention of the range of political views in the Sunni resistance, is like saying, as in fact they did in the headline, that the IAI wants to "oust Shiites from Iraq": it is pure scare-propaganda. It sounds to me as if they have gotten themselves a government-controlled editorial function over there at that progressive institution, something that will be worth paying attention to.

(I still recall the shock of seeing the Feb 22 CSM piece on De-Baathiication, which the editors tarted up with a flattering photo of none other than Ahmed Chalabi, calling him "the de-Baathification visionary"! Again, it wasn't anything in Sam Dagher's text, it was just something the editor(s?) wanted to stick in...)


Update on Sunday April 13: AlJazeera hasn't posted a transcript, but Leila Anwar has taken the trouble to transcribe all or almost all of it, an English translation, re-arranged by topic. The whole thing is very informative and a good read. Her transcript makes it clear what he said about IAI/AlQaeda relations. He said their takfiiri approach was unacceptable, that the latest Bin Laden speech made things worse instead of better, but that the IAI doesn't attack them, only defending itself when they attack (which makes a lot more sense than the above). Shammari did specifically denounce the Mahdi Army for being involved in sectarian cleansing, adding they would have to desist from that if they want to be part of the resistance. And he said the Basra fighting was essentially Sadr vs Badr and was a fight over control over resources.

He did single out for praise a group of Arab Shiite tribes in the South:
...a number of Shia tribes in the South have spoken out against the Iranian influence and we have contact with them and encourage them...
So his overall point is that the Sunni resistance has never had a sectarian approach, and stands ready to join with Shiite groups that resist the double-occupation. But according to this transcript he said the Mahdi Army hadn't demonstrated its bona fides in this regard. (Maybe the Americans will help out here with their attack on Sadr City).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

could you define AlQaeda for me?

5:53 AM  
Blogger badger said...

people use it differently. Think of Scientology. To some it means followers of LRon Hubbard, to others means believers in an exclusive creed. Suppose Scientologists start shooting at Bikers. The Bikers declare war on the Scientologists. Dhari steps in and says: Whoa, we don't need a shooting war here. These "scientologists" are mostly local kids who have been sucked into something, and a shooting war isn't the answer. There are other ways of dealing with this. Later on a Biker leader says: Our relationship is better.

If you're trying to follow what's going on in a case like that, coming up with "your definition of scientology" isn't really going to help you, is it?

7:08 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

This might be jumping the gun on something you are already working on Badger, but what are the thoughts on Al-Sistani's statements?

9:36 AM  
Blogger badger said...

still working on it...

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update Badger; this now makes much more sense. I was thinking before that Shammari had lost his marbles.

This also points somewhat toward my thinking that at least some of Sadr's actions and statements of the past couple of weeks have been intended to send messages to the predominantly Sunni resistance.

Sadr doesn't need to demonstrate his control of the Mahdi Army to his core constituency but he certainly has a need to reassure potential allies that his people are loyal not only to him but also to Iraq. In order to do this he needs to provide some tangible evidence that the sectarianism was not coming from him or his organization. That may prove to be a tall order.

In the nationalist vs partitionist reading of the civil war those allies would be the broader Sadrist trend, the tribes of Arab Iraq and the Sunni resistance groups. United, this is a powerful coalition; divided as they have been since 2005, they don't stand a chance.


5:14 AM  

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