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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Tue: Good Cleric, Bad Cleric
Sunni Political Divisions Splinter the Clerical Establishement
By AMER MOHSEN 12/03/2007 6:50 PM ET
It could be argued that one of the most important political developments in Iraq this year was the splintering of the Sunni Arab community between a camp that operates from within the “political process,” and, to varying degrees, in tandem with the government and the US occupation, and an opposing camp that still rejects the US-sponsored political process and calls for continued armed resistance against Coalition forces in the country.

The main representatives of the first camp are the sprouting “Awakening” councils (which tend to be tribal in the provinces and neighborhood-based in Baghdad.) These militias, which were initially formed to combat al-Qa’ida with US and government support, have evolved into sophisticated organizations, with security and intelligence services, political negotiators and spokespersons, and a strong presence in local administrations. Increasingly, the Awakening militias are now demanding political representation, and the government seems happy to oblige, with multiple officials hinting that PM al-Maliki may select Sunni ministers from among the tribal councils, rather than the “mainstream” Sunni parties that are represented in the parliament (such as Dulaimi’s UIA.)

According to al-Hayat, a parallel conflict is ongoing in the Sunni clerical establishment, with pro-government Sunni clerics (concentrated in the official Sunni endowment, and having overt links with the Awakening militias) trying to displace the anti-government, anti-US “Association of Muslim Scholars” as the highest-regarded Sunni clerical authority.

The London-based paper quoted Sheikh Mahmud al-Sumaidi’i who is participating in the formation of the “Association of Iraq’s Scholars (AIS,)” as saying that the “Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS,)” is “no longer the sole (clerical) reference for Sunnis in Iraq.” Al-Sumaidi’i frankly admitted that in the recent past, the radical AMS “was the major (clerical) representative of Sunnis, when it was first formed with a 40-member consultative council.” The Political choices of the AMS, al-Sumaidi’i said, led to a decrease in its popularity and the polarization of Sunni clerics, with new clerical associations (such as the AIS) competing for legitimacy.

It should be noted that, while the official Sunni endowment supports the Awakening councils in Baghdad, the AMS harshly criticized the pro-government militias, accusing them of committing crimes against local residents and of being tools of the US occupation.

This state of Sunni polarization was apparent in a speech delivered by the AMS chairman, Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, who, according to al-Hayat, warned his Sunni colleagues: “your enemies will not build you a country.” In an indirect response to Sunnis like al-Sumaida’i, who call for cooperation with the government and the US forces in order to guarantee a decent level of Sunni power in the state institutions, al-Dhari addressed the tribal leaders who participate in the Awakening councils: “the enemy is trying to appear to you as a friendly comrade who claims and swears ... that he wants your best, you are in no position to believe this rubbish.”

Al-Dhari argued that tribes are currently being used, much in the same way that sectarianism was employed, to bestow legitimacy on the governing establishment in Iraq. In his letter, the cleric warned tribal Sheikhs from the rampant sectarianism in Iraq: “look at Lebanon ... since sectarian and ethnic power-sharing was imposed on it, the country never knew stability.”

In other news, Az-Zaman said that the Iraqi government may have distributed different versions of the strategic “Accountability and Justice Law” draft to the parliamentarians who are expected to vote on the law proposal. The paper quoted MP Shadha al-Musawi who claimed that three different versions of the law were found with her colleagues. The Accountability and Justice Law is one of the most controversial proposals currently being debated by the parliament, as it is designed to replace the De-Ba’thification laws that have been applied since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Lastly, al-Quds al-‘Arabi said that dozens of activists in the banned Ba’th Party were arrested in Ramadi yesterday. According to the chair of Ramadi’s municipal council, Khattab ‘Ali Suleiman, 27 Ba’this were arrested for “urging the police officers in Anbar to revolt and join the armed resistance.” According to Suleiman, the men in question belong to the Yunis al-Ahmad wing of the Ba’th and their organization in Iraq operates under the name of “the Great Return.” Yunis al-Ahmad currently resides in Damascus and is competing with ‘Izzat al-Duri over the leadership of the party.


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