[Interesting insight into Iraqi thinking is provided by a recent exchange involving Dr. Ali al-Adad, a prominent member of the Central Council of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI is the most important Iraqi Shiite organization, closely linked to Iran, and a leading component of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won the January 2005 Iraqi elections.
On the occasion of a conference on Iraq to be held in Cairo under the auspices of the League of Arab states, IslamOnline -- a website related to the pan-Islamic (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood -- invited Dr. Ali al-Adad, to a live exchange with its readers in one of the online discussions that the website organizes regularly on very diverse issues. The exchange took place on November 17, and is posted in Arabic on IslamOnline.net.
It is an interesting document since it is rare to find the record of such a frank and direct exchange. It gives a view (rare in the Western media) of the arguments of SCIRI when addressing Muslim audiences, including its own Iraqi constituency. These views are, of course, quite different from those heard from SCIRI members who are appointed to the task of dealing with the United States, like Iraqi Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi who recently visited Washington.
I have excerpted and translated what follows, adding a few clarifying notes in brackets.
-- Gilbert Achcar]
Q: It is said that the [Cairo] conference is backed by the US in order to control the situation in Iraq and overcome the valiant Iraqi resistance in the name of opposing terrorism. How do you assess this view? Is the national entente [between Iraqis] going to allow the resistance to act against the occupiers only, or will it contribute to make the situation in Iraq comfortable for the Americans and exclude the prospect of a timetable for the withdrawal [of occupation troops]?
A [Dr. Ali al-Adad]: It is true that the Americans need the Arab governments to take a positive stand toward the situation in Iraq, but the Iraqis and the Iraqi government and patriotic Iraqi forces need to be integrated in the Arab League and in the Arab nation and Arab people so that they join the Iraqi people and support it in building Iraqi unity.
There is no disagreement on the stance toward American soldiers. All Iraqi forces, Shiite, Sunni and Kurds, want a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. There is no disagreement on this issue, but there are major reservations on the military operations of the so-called armed resistance since they are not only targeting the Americans, but have undertaken operations of mass murder and ugly crimes against women and children under criminal sectarian slogans, while declaring the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people to be miscreants [takfeer].
This is why we cannot accept this insane criminal resistance to participate in the talks. We want these criminal forces to be definitively isolated by the unity of Arabs, Shiites and Sunnis, and Kurds, and all other minorities, in building a democratic Iraq that refuses sectarianism and rejects the attribution of posts on a sectarian basis instead of attributing them on a positive basis of competence for the building of a unified Iraq for all.
Q: Mr. Ali al-Adad, do you have a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq? What is your position on the Iraqi resistance? Do you put it in the category of terrorism?
A: The political forces that will participate in the forthcoming [December 15 parliamentary] election, and in particular the [United Iraqi] Alliance’s slate that includes 17 movements and parties, the majority of whom are Shiites, agreed that the first demand on their political program is getting foreign troops out of Iraq, by setting a timetable for the evacuation of these troops. The second demand on their political program is the rapid and strong building of interior security forces so that they assume the defense of the country and take hold of all the territory including the borders, so that there remains no justification for the presence of foreign troops.
[The reply to the second part of the above question reiterates what was said already.]
Q: As-Salam aleikum, the head of the previous regime was a “Sunni,” and the Sunnis, and I am one of them, used to like the Shiites, and I have never felt that there was a discrimination against them or acceptance of an injustice that hurts them whether from the head of the regime or from his ministers.
Today the head of the ruling regime is very much Shiite, a Jaafari [the last name of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is also the name of the majority doctrine of Shiism]. Now that a little part has been uncovered of the hidden savage repressive practices denounced for long by the Sunni representatives and freely practiced by the Ministry of Interior, which is headed by a member of your [Supreme] Council, and by the apparatuses of the [SCIRI's] Badr militia against the Sunnis:
1-Do you believe that an entente is possible without a clear position and sanction on this?
2-Will the actions undertaken by the resistance against the apparatuses and members of the Ministry [of Interior] continue to be characterized as terrorist — as all Iraqi Shiites like to call them today, and they even call the resistance against the occupation terrorism — especially that the little uncovered of what is hidden has been uncovered by your American ally itself? Please reply without beating around the bush.
A: This is a [false] allegation made by the dear brother. The previous regime — actually the Iraqi state since its foundation in 1923 has been built on a basis of sectarian discrimination — did only let in the military academy 3% of Shiites, whereas 97% of the officers are Sunnis.
On the other hand, there was no law or legislation in the previous governments giving their rights to the absolute majority of Iraqis, [the Shiites] who are 65% of the population; there were not even official holidays on their religious celebration days.
Security and intelligence [mukhabarat] services in Iraq under Saddam were monopolized by Sunni only officers; Shiites were only a tiny minority among Ambassadors and high-ranking officials in the state.
Nevertheless, the Shiites and Kurds, despite their tragic situation, did not protest against the sectarian practices of the regime. They rebelled against oppression and mass extermination affecting all Iraqis, including Arab Sunnis. On one single day in 1998, the [previous] regime executed 83 [Sunni] scholars in the Western region of Iraq: no one escaped from the previous regime, whether Sunni, Shiite or Kurd.
The present regime in Iraq, when it was constituted, started to build its national institutions representing all Iraqis. Thus we find in the National Assembly Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds and minorities, and all are part of the Iraqi government without sectarian discrimination. One of the main ministries in the Iraqi government, the Ministry of Defense, a power ministry of course, is headed by brother Saadun al-Dulaimi, an Arab Sunni.
On the other hand, we must also point to the fact that the Kurds who head other power ministries, like Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Plan, are Sunni Kurds, and not Shiite Kurds.
The recent incident in al-Jaderiya [the intervention by US troops in a location under Ministry of Interior control, where tortured prisoners were held] is a pretext used to question the legitimacy of the noblest and most honorable regime freely and democratically chosen by the Iraqis. The truth on what is said about al-Jaderiyya will be revealed after the investigation.
What is important is that all should know that there are daily operations of extermination and mass murder using bomb cars perpetrated by criminal Ba’athists and Takfeeris [Sunni Islamic fanatics] in Iraq, and we have not heard a condemnation of these acts from some Arab brothers abroad who know quite well what Saddam’s regime used to do and what criminals belonging to Saddam’s bunch are doing today.
Q: As-Salam aleikum, what if the uncovering of the cave controlled by the Ministry of Interior was the beginning of an American about-face against the Shiites in Iraq — will armed action become resistance [in your view] and one of your options?
A: From the start of the military operations of foreign troops, the Supreme Commander of the Islamic Revolution, the martyr Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim [assassinated in an mass-murderous attack in Najaf in August 2003; he was succeeded by his brother, an Ayatollah like him, at the head of SCIRI] proclaimed his refusal that foreign troops enter Iraq. When this became an accomplished fact, and foreign troops entered, we proclaimed Jihad against these troops.
But when the American and British governments announced their intention of starting a political dialogue about the new Iraq on the basis of a timetable for the political process, to be followed by a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops, all under the auspices of UN Security Council resolutions, it became our duty [to act] in light of the Sharia rule that says oblige them by what they committed themselves to do, and we started peaceful resistance. Dialogue started and we began to create national institutions until we got our right to establish an elected national government, whose sovereignty has been recognized by the UN and Security Council resolutions. We will pursue that in the next government after the forthcoming elections by fixing a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops making sure that our armed forces have achieved full ability to defend our country and keep it secure.
Gilbert Achcar is the author of The Clash of Barbarisms and Eastern Cauldron, both published by Monthly Review Press in New York.