1) The Saudi Kingdom and Iraq
The last weeks and days have seen intensive campaigning by the Saudi Kingdom on the issue of Iraq, preceding US decisions on cooperation with the Kingdom. The campaign’s highlight has been the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal’s visit to the US and his statements blaming the US for failing in Iraq and giving the upper hand in that country to Iran, the arch-enemy of the US and its Saudi protectorate.
The campaign also included the release of a Saudi-sponsored (and co-written) study by the CSIS, an unofficial think-tank in Washington, titled “Saudi Militants in Iraq: Assessment and Kingdom’s Response.” (Much was made of this study because it said that foreign fighters were only a minority of the “insurgents,” as if that were a scoop.) It “estimated” (more a guessing-game than anything else) the proportion of foreign fighters in Iraq at 4-6% of the total number of “insurgents,” which it put at 30,000; of the foreigners, 12% are from the Saudi Kingdom (1-2% of the total). [The CSIS figures are mathematically inconsistent.]
Today’s (9/28) Al-Hayat reports figures given by Iraqi officials on the foreigners detained in Iraq: according to the officials quoted, US forces in Iraq hold in detention over 10,000 persons, of whom only 210 are foreigners. Of those, the largest group by far is made up of Saudis (35%). Syrians, Tunisians and Libyans together amount to 15%, Palestinians and Jordanians are 10%, and Egyptians and Sudanese 5%.
Today’s Al-Hayat also announces that G. W. Bush sent a memo to C. Rice on Monday, September 26, saying (I am translating from Arabic, because I couldn’t find the original; Al-Hayat probably got the news from its Saudi sponsors): “I assert that Saudi Arabia does cooperate with the efforts to fight global terrorism and that the proposed aid will help facilitate these efforts.” In the meantime, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, on a visit to the Kingdom, has “questioned,” in breathtaking boldness, the Saudi ban on… driving by women!
2) Muqtada al-Sadr’s consults Sistani on sectarian violence
Some days ago, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr from the Iraqi city of Al-Kufa had addressed a letter to him asking his advice to the “followers of the Sadrist line in particular and the Shiites in general” regarding the recent declaration of war against the Shiites by Zarqawi. (This chilling declaration — a voice message broadcast through the Internet — was announced in retaliation for the US-Iraqi onslaught on Tal Afar and accompanied with new massacres of Shiites).
Al-Sadr — who is the most popular Shiite figure among Arab Sunnis and is accused by some forces in the Shiite community, especially in SCIRI circles, of cozying up to the enemies of the Shiites — did not want to take on himself a call to exclude reprisals. His reply came in three points: 1) “Refer in this regard to your noble references, who naturally, as is well-known, are Sayyed Sistani (may his shadow last) and Sayyed Ha’eri (may his shadow last), they must be referred to first, and if they do not intervene, please get back to me with a new request.” 2) Print books and other educational material against “each of the occupation and its suite, the brigands [designating anti-Shiite Wahhabi forces, like Zarqawi's group] and the Ba’athists.” 3) Call on the Imams at Friday’s prayers to stigmatize them. In conclusion, al-Sadr asked his followers to remember that “the unity within Islam and the [Shiite] sect is the major weapon” against the “brigands and their masters,” as well as the Ba’athists.
The Sadrists of Al-Kufa wrote accordingly to al-Sistani, asking his advice. The latter replied with a long official communiquÃ©, now posted in Arabic on his website, with the following main points: Those who try to divide the Iraqis and push them toward civil war want to prevent Iraq from “recovering its sovereignty and security.” Iraqis should not and will not fall into this trap whatever horrors occur to them. Shiites should keep restraining themselves and cooperate with the competent services to protect their areas. All Iraqis should call, in words and deeds, to repel the deviants (an indirect call on Sunni religious leaders to issue condemnations of sectarian attacks). The Iraqi government should provide security to all Iraqis and “prevent them from being hurt, to whatever ethnic group or religious sect or thought they belong.”
3) US military campaigns and the forthcoming vote in Iraq
Commenting on the November 2004 assault on Fallujah prior to the January 30 election, I had written: “The US occupation could not have any illusion — at this point in time — about its ability to stop the violence in the country by resorting to such violent means. Instead, there is serious reason to believe that the real purpose was precisely to aggravate the chaotic conditions in Iraq in order to diminish the legitimacy of the outcome of the January 30 elections.”
I had written this because of the fact that the very brutal assault on Fallujah had led to such a deterioration of the conditions in Iraq and to such an outcry among Arab Sunnis, that it compelled most major political forces belonging to this community to reverse their stand and boycott the election. (The Islamic Party, the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, had even registered its electoral slate, before withdrawing from the race.)
This scenario seems likely to be repeated. Until now, the ranks of the Arab Sunnis were divided on the issue of the October 15 referendum. Not that any major force among them is calling to approve the draft constitution: as is well known, there is a large consensus among Arab Sunni representatives on rejecting the draft. (The sectarian polarization in Iraq is such that the majority of Arab Shiites support the draft and the vast majority of Arab Sunnis oppose it, while the Kurdish forces try to arbitrate, preserving their interests.) However, the majority of Arab Sunni forces had called their constituencies to register on the electoral lists (which they did massively) to try to defeat the draft constitution by gathering two-thirds of No votes in the three main Arab Sunni provinces. Only two forces have long called for a boycott of the referendum: the Ba’ath Party (very officially by a formal statement published on its website) and Al-Qaeda followers (they forbid any vote on a constitution anyhow, since there should be no constitution but the Koran in their view).
Today’s Al-Hayat reports that two main figures of the Arab Sunni community in Iraq, Saleh al-Mutlak, the man leading the campaign against the draft constitution, and Issam al-Rawi, a member of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, have accused US occupation forces and Iraqi governmental forces of trying — by the full-fledged offensive they launched in the Arab Sunni province of Al-Anbar, starting with the assault on Tal Afar — to prevent the participation of Arab Sunnis in the referendum, thus pushing them to call for a boycott. Al-Mutlak said that a call for boycott could be announced after consultations among the opponents of the draft.
If the referendum were to be held with a massive participation of all Iraqis, the result would be, whether the draft passes or fails, that this first all-encompassing electoral test would likely be followed by all-encompassing elections for a new National Assembly (with the possibility of getting there a majority in favor of the withdrawal of occupation forces). If the referendum were boycotted massively by Arab Sunnis, as were the January elections, then it is highly likely that there would also be an Arab Sunni boycott of the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place before the end of this year. The present tragic situation would be prolonged indefinitely, if not very much worsened actually.