Friday, June 20, 2008

Good news

The names and orientations of political parties registered for the upcoming provincial elections show a dramatic shift from sect- and other small-group orientations to a focus instead on nationalist themes (summary of the trend by Visser here; report by AlHayat here).

Following on the heels of that, Zaid al-Zubaidi, writing in Al-Akhbar, says his discussions with leaders of some of the armed resistance factions show they too are implementing a shift away from "sectarianism" (or the appearance of sectarianism) to a similar focus on a more open attitude--in their case the gist of the change being to try and incorporate or amalgamate the "secular, leftist and nationalist" groups that oppose the occupation, in part by abandoning some of their sectarian trappings, and also by working together on substantive issues of post-occupation policy.

In particular, the journalist quotes a leader of the Reform and Change Front (Brigades of the 1920 Revolution and other groups, close to the Association of Muslim Scholars) who told him his group "has announced it is prepared to cooperate and ally itself with leftist, secular and nationalist forces that oppose the occupation, whether they follow programs of armed resistance or of peaceful resistance."

The discussions within the Jihad and Change Front are continuing, and they include for instance a proposal that the group announce its intention to abandon its arms once the occupation withdraws, and commit also that its members won't seek political positions thereafter, relying instead on experts and specialists, no matter what their political orientation. The spokesman said the majority are in favor of this proposal, but there are some who see it as an attempt to do an end-run around those who have borne the brunt of the fighting, in the interests of the secularists and Baathists and so on, who are stronger in terms of the type of expertise referred to.

The journalist also talked to a leader in the Rashideen Army (one of the Jihad and Change groups) who elaborated on the problem of attracting secular resistance people to these groups as long as they retain their religious and/or sectarian names and identities, suggesting this will have to be changed if the resistance is to finally unite all of its elements in a final push against the occupation. Unifying now with the secularists, he said, would help eliminate the feeling that some of the fighters have that the fruits of their efforts are going to be usurped by others (meaning the secularists).

The journalist says this new mood is a result of recent experiences, including: (1) Generally, the fact that a "sectarian" image has cost the resistance dearly in terms of popular support; and (2) more particularly, the following:
According to those who follow the affairs of the resistance, the factions have been facing a major difficulty, since their enemies (or rivals) among those who participate in the political process have grasped the dangers of sectarian and religious confrontations, and some of them have announced they are abandoning their sectarian blocs and staying away from religious-political disputes, while the resistance is lagging behind in this proposition...

4 Comments:

Anonymous Steve said...

Badger,

Thanks for following this interesting announcement.

There are one or two elements here that seem to be new. Firstly, (though I may be wrong on this) isn't Akhbar a Lebanese, pro-Hezbollah publication? So possibly the use of "good offices" promoting a mediated reconciliatory tone? Also, I came across this as a fully translated version that was being distributed through email and internet lists by Europe based ME peace activists.

Second - and I think this is very important - only a couple of months ago we were still seeing a great deal in the way of angry rejection of the Sadrists by elements of the Jihad and Change (reform?) Front, with allegations of the Mahdi Army's sectarian murderousness still very much to the fore. This statement sounds more like an admission of shared guilt in allowing the resistance to be defined along sectarian lines, coupled with a pledge to put that in the past and move forward together.

However, I'm still a little confused by the admission of being involved in sectarianism and could not work out whether this sectarianism was violent in nature (something all the groups under this umbrella have always denied) or whether he's just talking about sectarianism by group definition, namely, Sunni resistance or Shi'a resistance. Does this seem any clearer in the original, Arabic text or is it still a little fuzzy?

Steve

7:08 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Some observations:

It's interesting that a European peace group would be picking up on this, because what it (potentially?) represents is an opening by the traditional, mostly Islamic-oriented, resistance groups to the secular left, something that has been a stumbling-block for a long time, as you know.

The guy he interviewed was Reform and Change (which is 1920s Brigades, Rashideen Army, and other groups). Confusingly Reform and Jihad is a different coalition, the biggest component there being the Islamic Army of Iraq. The journalist doesn't mention them, and I myself am in the dark about their current whereabouts. Neither the iaisite.org webside, nor the rjfront.info site seems to be up very up to date. Which doesn't necessarily mean anything, however. I would like to be enlightened. The fact this is coming from the "Change" coalition, which is close to Harith al Dhari and the AMSI, makes sense because Dhari had been the one (in his "letters to the tribes" and so on) stressing the need not to get hung up on ideologies. How far the mood extends to the likes of the IAI or other trends is obviously another question.

I wouldn't call Al-Akhbar exactly a Hizbullah-related paper. It supports Hizbullah because it is left; not vice versa. It was the editorial home of Joseph Samaha before he died. And the fact that the Angry Arab deigns to speak well of the publication tells us that it is a bearer of the spirit of the "pre-islamist" left (so to speak).

Finally, I don't think the interlocutor is trying to make any making any particularly strong admissions about "sectarianism" in the sense of sectarian violence. His main point is what the resistance groups *didn't* do, and that is to make a special effort to define themselves to be defined (and to think of themselves) in trans-group terms. He says the groups allowed themselves to "be pulled along, wittingly or unwittingly, into the occupation's scheme, which is generally to refer to them as "the sunni resistance" or the "shiite resistance" and there were noteworthy cases of bloody conflicts between them."

7:52 AM  
Anonymous ctuttle said...

Aloha, Badger! Erdla left me a note at M&C saying that Hakim and SIIC told Dawa and Maliki no thanks!

"This report (Arabic) says that al-Hakim has rejected Nouri al-Maliki's request that Dawa (Maliki's party) and SIIC run together as a list in the elections. The last 3 paragraphs say why:

That Dawa are now very unpopular and unlikely to do well in the elections and that al-Hakim doesn't want SIIC to be dragged down with them."
An interesting development to say the least...!

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Thanks for the background and clarification, Badger.

So, it seems there is an admission of violence between the sect defined groups but that is something they're prepared to put behind them in a spirit of unity.

I'm wondering how all this will go down at the grass roots level from which we've mostly heard chest beating after the post-Samarra attacks. I suppose it remains to be seen.

1:49 PM  

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