by Independent Online (South Africa) South Africa Press Agency/Agence France-Presse –
FALLUJAH (August 1, 2003) — A radicalised current of Sunni Islam is emerging in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, as the community which ruled for decades watches the long-oppressed Shi’ites asserting their will by virtue of sheer numbers. Most fight the Americans in the name of Saddam Hussein, but some have picked up arms as an assertion of their Sunni identity, in anger over US designs to radically alter their world with plans for Western-style democracy. The split between Shi’ites and Sunnis, over the succession to Mohammed and the interpretation of his sayings, dates back to the seventh century AD.
“The battle against the occupation and the wicked is an obligation of Islam,” said a senior cleric in the town of Fallujah, which for many has become a symbol of resistance to the US-led occupation of the country.
The fundamentalists, sometimes called Wahhabis or Salafis, battling the Americans alongside a legion of Saddam loyalists, have taken up arms “because of the occupation” but the insurgency has not reached great heights “because jihad (holy war) has not yet been proclaimed against the Americans,” said Sheikh Ahmad Abbas al-Issawi.
Issawi, like some Sunni clerics around the country, gives a tacit nod to armed struggle against the Americans. “Jihad is one of the tenets of Islam, and to renounce jihad would be contrary to our beliefs.”
In a mirror image of the delicate dance played around the country, Issawi stops short of a call for outright violence. “We must wait before proclaiming jihad if there is hope of reaching the same results by negotiation,” he said.
A fundamentalist, Wahhabi and Salafi stream imported from the barren sands of Saudi Arabia has a history in Iraq, intermittently tolerated and then cracked down on, says Mohsen Abdul Farhan, a teacher of Islamic law. “We refuse any constitution other than Islamic law’
“Give them (the Americans) the chance to live up to their promises on the reconstruction, but at the end of the day, they must leave,” this cleric said. He added that any mujahed, or holy warrior, killed attacking US forces is a martyr.
In the al-Husseinein mosque in Baghdad, some 100 children meet each day to study the Koran and memorise it. The mosque’s Imam, Sheikh Adnan al-Ani, suspects a plot against the Sunni Muslims by the foreign forces.
In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, Sheikh Hashem Khshali calls the United States “an enemy of all Muslims” but says he has not called for jihad. But graffiti advocating jihad decorates the walls around Baghdad and west and north of the capital.
“Army of Mohammed,” is written near the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad’s Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah, long considered a haven of Saddam supporters.
Ali Al-Saadi, a member of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shiite political group, in the Baquba region, believes the Sunni fundamentalists’ influence is on the rise, due to fear of the Shiites.
A young Sunni cleric in Tarmiyah, near Baghdad, calls holy war “an obligation of all Muslims.” “We refuse any constitution other than Islamic law,” said Sheikh Daher Ibrahim Khatib. He dismisses the idea of democracy as anathema to Islam.
The US-led coalition forces are well aware of an Islamic threat. The top ground commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, warned on Thursday that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network was “probably” operating in Iraq, along with other Islamist extremist groups like Ansar al-Islam.
“I suspect they’re probably here along with Ansar al-Islam,” he told reporters. “As long as Americans are here, people will come to attack them — just like they’re trying to attack American interests around the world,” Sanchez said in reference to al-Qaeda and other hardcore militants.