Zarqawi's war whoops
Iraqis lived through another round of bloodletting this week as controversy swirls around Zarqawi's alleged call to fight the Shia people of Iraq, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti from Baghdad
The cycle of violence in Iraq claimed the lives of more than 250 civilians and left 600 wounded in Baghdad in the past few days. Tens of other victims of fighting were reported across the rest of the country.
"Only the poor people are being targeted every day," says Ammar Abbas, a poor worker, as he stands in Al-Urouba Square in Kadhimiya. The square was the recent target of a suicide car bomb that killed 120 people.
"We, Shiites and Sunnis, wait days to have an opportunity to work. Why are they targetting the poor?" Abbas added.
Abbas and dozens of other construction workers returned to the bombing site one day after the explosion.
Meahwhile, at the "Green Zone", high-ranking officials are living and working in a safer environment enjoying security, no curfew, and electricity.
"We feel as if we are not in Iraq. We feel as if we are in an American country," a son of a high-ranking police officer told Al-Ahram Weekly. The families and children of those officials are either outside Iraq or enjoying "security" and "special laws" inside Iraq. The flare in violence took place against the backdrop of insurgency leader Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi's declaration of war against Shiites. Al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda's top man in Iraq, several Sunni groups including the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party, and the Islamic Army issued statements asking Zarqawi "not to begin such war against the Iraqis".
"Such a war will backfire against the Iraqi resistance," Sunni Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ubaidi told the Weekly.
The Association of Muslim Scholars suggested that "Shiites should avoid mass gatherings." But leading Shiite cleric and head of the Supreme Council Islamic Revolution in Iraq Mohamed Said Al-Hakim urged Shiites to participate in such gatherings.
Leading up to last Monday, when the latest such celebration was held to commemorate the birthday of the last Shiite Imam Al-Mahdy, many areas in Baghdad were blocked while Iraqi National Guard (ING) and police officers patrolled the streets. Moqtada Al-Sadr's Al-Mahdy army also began guarding the routes connecting Baghdad to Karbala which are crossed by tens of thousands of pilgrims heading to celebrations in the holy city.
"We reached an agreement with the Interior Ministry to guard the roads," Al-Sadr spokesman Hashim Al-Hashimi in Baghdad told the Weekly.
But confidence in the agreement was shaken when a member of Al-Mahdy army was killed by the Americans in Latifiya and another leading member was arrested in Basra.
"We will continue our task of protecting our followers and those living in poor districts," Al-Hashimi added.
University of Baghdad Political Science Professor Jinan Ali says there is more to the Zarqawi threat than appears on the surface.
"The so-called war against Shiites began after Moqtada Al-Sadr announced his opposition to drafting the constitution," says Ali. ""Most of the Shiites targeted are Moqtada's followers intended to force them to cast a "Yes" vote in the coming referendum".
Many Iraqis are now wondering whether Zarqawi is a real figure or not.
"Zarqawi is a good pretext for striking any Iraqi city or town," Professor Ali explains.
"If Zarqawi is defending the Sunnis and his followers are operating in the Sunni areas, why were Najaf and Sadr city (mostly Shiite areas) targeted by the Americans and Iraqi forces several times before?"
Many Iraqis believe the Americans and the government are behind the Zarqawi communiqué of targeting Shiites.
"Do you think that Zarqawi, if he is real, is ready to gain more enemies by such a communiqué?" asks Al-Ubaidi.
"The government and Americans are ready to do everything to get the so-called constitution approved. They are trying to exclude Sunnis from the political process in Iraq; they are forcing the Iraqi resistance toward more severe fights."
Many people wonder why members of the government usually remain silent about the issue. Government critics claim these members either believe in the American agenda in Iraq or they receive the large salaries they are allotted. Every member in the National Assembly receives $8000 per month.
One explanation expressed by a former member of the Iraqi National Congress lays the blames squarely on the United States.
The politician, who belonged to the Iraqi Opposition Front in exile during the rule of Saddam Hussein, cites a 1998 meeting with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to make his point.
"I asked her if the Americans had a plan to protect the Iraqis during the attack on Iraq and after the toppling of the regime," said the politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Her answer was: 'we don't care'."