Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Istanbul Conference

Azzaman devotes a lot of space this morning to coverage of the Istanbul conference of Wednesday and Thursday (December 13 and 14), with a picture of the group. There were around 100 attendees, including politicians, clerics, intellectuals and activists, the reporter says, from Iraq and from outside of Iraq. Following an exibition of photos and videos to indicate the realities of what is occuring in Iraq, the meeting was convened by Abdulrahman bin Amir al-Nuaimi. He said the purpose of the meeting was to link up Sunnis in Iraq and outside of Iraq and to present a clear idea to those outside of conditions that Iraqi Sunnis are facing. He then read a letter from Safr al-Hawali, who is one of the big names among Saudi clerical activists, described by Nuaimi as the original proponent of this type of conference, but prevented from coming to Istanbul for health reasons. The Hawali letter made three points: Necessity for unity of the Iraqi resistance to the occupation; need for organized assistance to Iraqi Sunnis from the Sunni community world-wide; and political efforts to build a new Iraq for all its groups.
Lead-off speaker was Harith al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association of Iraq. His main point was that the nature of the current conflict in Iraq is not sectarian but political. The agents who came to Iraq with the Americans belong to different sects, and the problem it is not their sectarian beliefs, but their collusion with the occupation.

He was followed by Salman al-Awda, another of the big names in Saudi Islamist activism, whose main point was the need for Sunni solidarity with the Iraqi Sunnis, and he made a special point of congratulating Turkey for its efforts in this regard, and also for hosting the conference.

Next up was Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi National Accord, biggest of the Sunni coalitions in the Iraqi parliament. He demurred from Dhari's analysis, and said the current conflict in Iraq is at least partly sectarian, and he said Iran is using this sectarian conflict as a way of extending its influence.

The first day concluded with the playing of a taped audio message from a spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq. The Azzaman reporter focuses on the tactical side of what he had to say, for instance noting that he said many Sunni strongholds in the south have fallen, and the Safavid threat is now faced by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Azzaman reporter leaves out the more colorful parts highlighted yesterday in Al-Quds al-Arabi about Ibn al-Alqami and so on.

On Thursday participants heard from Nasar bin Suleiman al-Amr, described as the director of a website called (which is the site that hosted the anti-Shiite declaration of the 38 Saudi clerics last week), and his main point was more clearly sectarian than any of the other participants. He couched it this way: Sunnis should treat Shiites fairly, because some of them don't realize the root nature of the Iranian scheme. Sunnis need to explain Shiism not only to other Sunnis, but to the Shiites themselves.

This was countered by Harith al-Dhari, who spoke next in rebuttal. It is very important, said Dhari, that what we say here not serve in any way to stoke the flames of conflict. And he elaborated on his point that the issues are essentially political ones, having their main origin in the American occupation, and secondarily in the Iranian interference. The Azzaman reporter gives this the longest treatment of any of his summaries.

The conference adopted a list of conclusions and recommendations.

(1) Iraq is of central importance, and throughout its history has been subject to occupation and so on, but a loyal population has always resisted that.

(2) Sunnis elsewhere cannot tolerate what the Iraqis are going through in terms of violation of their territory, sovereignty and rights, at the hands of the occupation, without taking concrete steps to provide Iraq with assistance.

(3) The occupation bears the reponsibility for the slaughter that is occurring in Iraq, in practical terms because it is providing the political umbrella under which this is going on, and in legal terms because the occupation forces' continuing attacks give Iraqis the right to prosecute them under international law.

(4) The Safavid political parties share in the responsibility, both because of their connivance with the occupation generally, and more particularly because of the activities of their militias.

(5) The current political process in Iraq, under the aegis of the occupation, is without legal right.

(6) Criticism of Arab and Islamic governments for their silence about this, their lack of aid to Iraqis, and particularly to Sunnis. These regimes are doing nothing about the aggressive steps of both America and Iran.

(7) Praise for the management of the Iraqi resistance which is the force that has stymied the occupation plans.

This is followed by a list of points for specific action:

(1) Demand that the American occupation forces get out of Iraq, and end any "form or appearance of military presence" in Iraq, and that this be done with appropriate international guarantees.
(2) Demand that Iran end its interference in Iraq, and in particular that it end its support for specific political parties in Iraq.
(3) End the current political process which has been imposed on Iraq by the occupation, and allow the country to return to a political process that is supported by the Iraqis themselves, without foreign interference.
(4) Disarming and disbanding of the militias,
(5) Affirmation of the Arab and Islamic character of Iraq.
(6) Invite the Arab and Islamic regimes to end their policy of thwarting involvement in the affairs of Iraq, and instead adopt consistent policies permitting popular and non-governmental organizations to provide what assistance they can to the people of Iraq.
(7) Set up follow-up committees, with particular reference to the following:

(1) Pressure and negotiate with neighboring regimes to support the Iraqi Sunnis in the danger that they are facing, release prisoners, and work toward the laying of charges under international law against the violations that Iraqis have faced, and bringing those responsible to court.
(2) Material and humanitarian support.
(3) Support for families.
(4) Publicity for what is happening in the country.

The above is the Azzaman summary.

Al-Hayat publishes a much shorter account of the meeting, with the following additional information that isn't in the Azzaman piece:

Al-Hayat says there was talk about a need for solidarity against American-Iranian aggression that is pushing Sunnis out of Baghdad.

Among the armed opposition groups, in addition to the taped message from the IAI, there was also a tape from the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, and a faxed message from the Army of the Mujahideen.

Among foreign participants, there were presonalities and representatives of parties and groups from Saudi Arabia, Qatar (where convener al-Nuaimi is from), Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey, along with representation from the Syrian "Justice and Growth" party.

Al-Nuaimi, from Qatar, is the person responsible for the convening group, which is called World Campaign for Resistance to Agression. He said the purpose of the conference, planned as the first of a series, isn't to ignite sectarian fitna, but rather to appeal to reasonable Shiites for dialogue to help rescue the country from the foreign plans.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

“This is followed by a list of points for specific action:
(5) Affirmation of the Arab and Islamic character of Iraq.”

Surely, that ‘train has left the station': the Kurds are not about to agree to being called Arabs and what about the Shia? Does anyone know approximately what percentage considers themselves Arabs and what percent Persian? Do the Shia factions break along Arab and Persian lines?

3:10 PM  
Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

Very few Iraqi Shi'a are going to openly identify as "Persian". Arabism runs deeply through the South just as well as the center. Go back just a couple decades to the Iran-Iraq War and all the failed expectations of Iraqi Shi'a siding with Iran. The Sadrists are particularly adamant on this point. No small coincidence on this issue that they try to use Lebanese Hizbullah as a model - the party that pioneered the notion of Shi'a as at the forefront of Arab nationalist resistance (I know, bit of bizarre mix Islamism of any stripe and Arab nationalism, but such are the times we live in).

3:47 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Non-arab, I guess what that comes down to is that this would be a not-implausible combination: Islamist-tinged Sunni nationalism with Sadrist nationalism ?

What if you did a post (short or long) on this over at your place ?

Sadr did make a statement in support of the Istanbul get-together, that could be the handle ?

4:02 PM  
Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

Just wrote a spiel, see:

Dang, I write too much! Unedited again, just top of my head stuff, probably full of typos and non-sensical tangents.

9:08 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Nothing non-sensical about it.

That is an excellent and much-needed summary of how this current situation came about. The thing is that I guess if you know the history it is obvious to you that the whole "inevitable Shiite-Sunni split" idea is something that essentially the Americans brought with them and planted. But if you don't know or don't remember the history, then what you go over in that essay is vitally important stuff.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one point I am curious on - is the use of the term "Safavids" in the Istanbul communique not one that Shiite groups would find objectionable?

1:28 PM  
Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

Yes, it's meant as a slur. They'd say it's only aimed at disloyal elements, but in the current atmosphere, it will be taken by many as an attack on the entire segment of society.

Badger - the Americans blew the sectarian rift wide open, I don't want to let them off the hook, but also what I was trying to get across was the real pre-existing roots of that problem which go beyond the Americans as well. Americans have no right of course to point to pre-existing problems to try and exonerate themselves of their guilt (which is severe), but Saddam and co. and Iraqis have their own significant share of guilt as well regardless of the American match thrown into the gas tank.

Hope it was informative.

1:57 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I understand, and your piece was informative both ways.

It's just that the whole US propaganda effort is to deny the existence or meaningfulness of any Iraqi nationalism at all, and people have swallowed that, and it has enormous implications for how the US acts from now on. That's why I lean the other way. But I understand your point and I'm educated by it.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your summary was a watered down, filtered one that missed many points, intentionally or not. i'd like to put this into context:

firstly all the arab and islamic countries refused to host this meeting. It was ultimatley political factions in Qatar who, after exerting pressure through israel (vis a vis the israeli embassy in Qatar) on turkey which led to turkey accepting to host this conference.

Several factors have contributed to the precipitation of this secterian conference
-There still exists a direct link between the religious institution in saudia arabia and obl who regularly maintains his anti-shia rehteroic and whose organisations/links still provide support for the terrorists in iraq.
-Various aspects of sunni society in iraq are traversing from one arab ruler to another begging them for their help in fighting the (safawis- ie shia). These rulers and their respective religious support are responding in providing logistical and financial support for the terrorists
-On the ground, in Iraq: the "mujhadeen" known as terrorists by the iraqi's are killing, maiming and destroying daily in their overtly declared plan of starting a secterian civil war.

these factors have intertwined and along with rising alarm against the shia aided by such statements as the infamous crescent notion by king abdullah of jordan, and the recent saudi declaration of support to iraqi sunnis against the shia. Certain Sunnis in the arab world, the majority of whom are the radical takfiri whabbi type ( whose hive is Saudia Arabia)who having pushed the various factors above into place have organised this conference. Also it is obvious that the arab regimes, fearing the rising shia movement in their midst, have aided movement in this direction as a counter force.

At the conference itself the participants have shown themselves as to really what they are. They are the type supported zarqawi when he was attacking the shia. They support saddams baathists. they support the so called "mujhadeen". Its too long summarise what they said but in essence what can be understood from this counference, and what we shia have known for a long time is that they can't comprehend that the shia or kurds have reached a point where they rightfully have come to hold the regins of power in Iraq. please note that it is not due to the sunni exclusion from the political process (there are many sunni representatives amd parties involved) but the very fact that they, the sunnis, are not in power and are now the minority is the major reason why this meeting has occured.

8:06 AM  
Blogger badger said...


(1) It would be interesting to have a source for what you say about a Qatar-Israel-Turkey connection. It's always good to know what you're relying on in cases like this.

(2) We know that Iraqi Sunnis (Al-Dhari for instance) have been talking to Arab governments and others is neighboring countries. But you make it sound as if their only topic of conversation is aid for terrorists.

(3) When you say the conference showed participants as "who they really are" namely as "the type who support [terrorists]", we know there are those types, but you don't call a conference to promote things like that, and you wouldn't find Al-Dhari warning participants against anti-Shiism because the Shiites are a part of the fabric of Iraqi society.
(4) I did leave out parts, but you didn't say which parts you wanted to see included.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that all of the feelings and attitudes you talk about exist. And I'm not a Sunni or a Shiite. But I think this particular conference was about more than Shiite-bashing. It was really focused on fighting the Americans, wasn't it?

4:11 PM  
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9:10 PM  

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