Sami Ramidami 'Exit without a strategy'
The popular response to Iraq's latest atrocities has been to blame the occupation, not rival sects
Friday February 24, 2006
The shattered golden dome of Samarra is yet another milestone in George Bush's "long war" - in which a civil war in Iraq shows every sign of being a devastating feature. But what sort of civil war? I am convinced it is not the type of war that politicians in Washington and London, and much of the western media, have been anticipating.
The past few days' events have strengthened this conviction. It has not been Sunni religious symbols that hundreds of thousands of angry marchers protesting at the bombing of the shrine have targeted, but US flags. The slogan that united them on Wednesday was: "Kalla, kalla Amrica, kalla kalla lill-irhab" - no to America, no to terrorism. The Shia clerics most listened to by young militants swiftly blamed the occupation for the bombing. They included Moqtada al-Sadr; Nasrallah, leader of Hizbullah in Lebanon; Ayatollah Khalisi, leader of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress; and Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader. Along with Grand Ayatollah Sistani, they also declared it a grave "sin" to attack Sunnis - as did all the Sunni clerics about attacks on Shias. Sadr was reported by the BBC as calling for revenge on Sunnis - in fact, he said "no Sunni would do this" and called for revenge on the occupation.
None of the mostly spontaneous protest marches were directed at Sunni mosques. Near the bombed shrine itself, local Sunnis joined the city's minority Shias to denounce the occupation and accuse it of sharing responsibility for the outrage. In Kut, a march led by Sadr's Mahdi army burned US and Israeli flags. In Baghdad's Sadr City, the anti-occupation march was massive.
There was a string of armed attacks on Sunni mosques in the wake of the bombing but none of them was carried out by the protesters. Reports suggest that they were the work of masked gunmen. Since then there has been an escalation of well-organised murders, some sectarian, some targeting mixed groups, such as yesterday's killing of 47 workers near Baquba.
But as live coverage of Wednesday's demonstrations on Iraqi and Arab satellite TV stations clearly showed, the popular mood has been anti-occupation rather than sectarian. Iraq is awash with rumours about the collusion of the occupation forces and their Iraqi clients with sectarian attacks and death squads: the US is widely seen as fostering sectarian division to prevent the emergence of a united national resistance. Evidence of their involvement in Wednesday's anti-Sunni reprisals was picked up in the Times, which reported that after an armed attack on the al-Quds Sunni mosque in Baghdad the gunmen climbed back into six cars and were ushered from the scene by cheering soldiers of the US-controlled Iraqi National Guard.
Two years ago I argued in these pages that the US aim of installing a client pro-US regime in Baghdad risked plunging the country into civil war - but not a war of Arabs against Kurds or Sunnis against Shias, rather a war between a US-backed minority (of all sects and nationalities) against the majority of the Iraqi people. That is where Iraq is heading.
Crucial political turning points are going unnoticed, though not by the US ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who organised the pro-US opposition before the invasion and devised the sectarian formulas put into practice thereafter.
In the run-up to the December elections, Sadr's forces won decisive battles in Baghdad and the south against Sciri, the Shia faction more inclined to work with the US. The defeat of the Sciri forces gave Sadr's Mahdi army a powerful voice in the coalition that won the election, and helped nominate Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister against the US-backed Sciri man, Adil Abdulmahdi. Khalilzad is adamant that Sadr's supporters should not be able to exercise such influence. This is the cause of the political crisis engulfing the Green Zone regime.
For nearly two years, we have been inundated with US and British "exit strategies". So, why do you need a strategy to pack up, end the occupation and let the Iraqi people decide their own future? The "threat of civil war" of course. But that is to ignore the war unfolding in Iraq thanks to the continued occupation.
None of these exit strategies will work for the simple reason that they are based on an unrealisable ambition: to have the Iraqi cake and eat it. All the Bush and Blair strategies are based on maintaining a pro-US regime in Baghdad. Freed from this hated occupation, proud and independent Iraqis will never elect a collection of US- and British-backed proteges.
· Sami Ramadani was a political exile from Saddam's regime and is a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University