Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Will Iraq be divided?

Some US politicians long suggested that Iraq would be best partitioned. Unless Islamic scholars can engage in dialogue, this scenario may be inevitable, writes Ahmed Naguib Roushdi

Al-Ahram Weekly

International and local media has been flooded with news about bloody sectarian violence in Iraq between the Sunni minority and the Shia majority. The Sunnis have been fighting the Shiites over the latter’s atrocities against them. The Sunnis have taken over many Shia dominated cities, inflicting great losses in life and property on the Shia. Fighters of a radical Islamist group — an offshoot of Al-Qaeda that was helping Syrian rebels against President Bashar Al-Assad and managed to increase its leverage in the region by taking control of Syria’s largest oil field — established an Islamic Caliphate in the territories it occupied in Syria. Their leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, led his people into Iraq to fight beside the Sunnis, but in order to assume power there. His group bore the name the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It managed by its own to take over some cities in Iraq, including the city of Mosul, the second largest city after Baghdad, and established a new Islamic Caliphate in Mosul. Al-Baghdadi, as reported, calls himself “Khalifa Ibrahim” — a reference to Prophet Abraham, who was mentioned in the Quran as Ibrahim and is considered by Muslims the father of all prophets.

On Friday, 4 July, Al-Baghdadi gave a sermon in Mosul’s Great Mosque urging Muslims to fast during Ramadan and undertake jihad. But he did not warn his people against fighting during Ramadan, which is considered in the Quran a holy month during which fighting even for jihad is forbidden, unless Muslims are attacked. In his sermon, Al-Baghdadi said, reportedly: “I was placed as your caretaker and I am not better than you. So if you found me to be right, then help me, and if you found me to be wrong, then advise me and make me right.” By this, Al-Baghdadi appeared to have plagiarised Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, in his acceptance speech after being elected by the people in Mecca.

ISIS is no different than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who have been bombing government buildings and killing civilians, especially in Ramadan, and lately attacked a military bus in Rafah in Sinai and killed 10 Egyptian soldiers.

Jihad in Islam was never thought of as fighting against Muslims — except if the Muslim ruler turns out to be an autocrat and deviates from Islamic teachings. The real jihad was meant to be against non-Muslims who attack a Muslim nation or cause harm to its people. But nowadays Muslims are fighting each other in a sectarian rift that is exploited by jihadists for power. In Syria, the Sunnis revolted against Al-Assad protesting his autocratic rule. They aim to topple him and establish a democratic government. But with leaders of ISIS dominating in the struggle against Al-Assad in Syria, and Nuri Al-Maliki in Iraq, and with their declaration of Caliphates in Syria and Iraq, ISIS appears to be purely after power. Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki has lost control of the country and his US-trained army could not defend itself. He left his Shia majority helpless.  

Not only are the Iraqi Sunnis fighting the Shiites to have their share in government, but the Kurds — who have semi-autonomy in their region, Kurdistan — have their problems with the Shiites and the Sunnis. It was reported that their president, Massoud Barazani, announced that his government would not participate in any new government in Baghdad unless Al-Maliki’s government grants Kurdistan independence and let it continue its occupation of Kirkuk, a city in northern Iraq that is rich in oil reserves. These Kurdish demands were negatively met by both Shiites and Sunnis.

With this situation of civil war and chaos, there are some that advocate ending the civil war by dividing Iraq into three separate states. The proposal is not new and was in the mind of the US Congress during the last two years of former president George W Bush’s second term. In 2007, The Washington Post and other American media reported that then senator and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joseph Biden Jr (now the US vice president), having in mind the multi-ethnic culture of Iraq, presented a resolution with a plan to divide Iraq into three separate regions: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, with a federal government in Baghdad. The resolution, which was approved by 75-23 votes with 26 Republican votes for and one Democrat against, was non-binding. The then-president Bush was not forced to take action. Although the plan was included in the new Iraqi constitution, Biden found that he had to initiate local and regional diplomatic efforts to hasten its evolution, said the Washington Post. Surprisingly, the two rivals in the presidential elections of 2008 — then-Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) who voted against attacking Iraq, and John McCain (R-Arizona) who was a supporter of the war — both missed the vote.

But when Fouad Hussein, the chief of staff of President Barazani of Kurdistan, went lately to Washington to talk to Vice President Biden about Kurdistan’s grievances, he found, as reported, that Biden was not responsive. Secretary of State John Kerry during his meeting with Barazani in late June was reported to have made it clear that the United States would like to see Kurdistan playing a leading role in forming a united government in Baghdad, and to defer its dreams of independence. In the view of Obama’s administration, as reported, a strong Iraq is a united Iraq, meaning that President Obama set aside Congress’s resolution to divide Iraq.

Some argue that if the plan to divide Iraq had taken place and a democratic system was adopted, Iraq would have functioned better. That would not have materialised, with regard to the hundreds of years of hatred and enmity between the Sunnis and the Shiites. The latter would not forgive the Sunnis for not installing Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, the Prophet Mohamed’s cousin, as his first Caliph, instead of Abu Bakr, the first man to convert to Islam and a close companion and  confidant of the Prophet. Some members of the Shia went to the extreme to consider Ali the real prophet, which gives the impression that the Holy Spirit took a wrong route to the Prophet Mohamed instead of Ali, a real challenge to God’s judgement. The immediate result is that this misguided faction, who are the Alawites to which Al-Assad and some Iranians belong, are not considered Muslims. To be as such, one should utter the Shahada (testimony) that Allah (God) is the only God and that Mohamed is God’s messenger.

The Shiites also hate the Sunnis for killing and beheading Al-Hussein Ibn Ali, who is also the grandson of the Prophet, in the city of Karbala in his war against Yazeed Ibn Moawiya Ibn Abi Sufyaan, the then-Sunni Caliph.

Now George W Bush and his top ally Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, are to bear the blame for invading Iraq in violation of the Geneva Conventions, for the war crimes committed by American and British troops in Iraq, and for the present violent sectarian civil war.

Iran is a staunch supporter of the Shia in Iraq and the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Al-Maliki, who has asked for American military help against the Sunnis. Obama decided against military involvement in Iraq. Instead, he sent 300 military advisers and drone planes to help Al-Maliki in gathering intelligence about Sunni rebels. He also called on Al-Maliki to diversify the formation of his government to include more representation of Sunnis and Kurds. But Al-Maliki refused to reach out to both. He has proved to be a disastrous ruler and his goal was to eliminate the Sunnis. Iran will not tolerate any American military action in Iraq and it supplied it with three Russian made bomber planes. However, Iran may try to help Obama in his attempt to replace Al-Maliki with a new prime minister.

Lately the major Iraqi parties had, as reported, a meeting to form a new government, but as the New York Times reported 2 July, the meeting had a rocky start. The parties’ representatives were unwilling to reach an agreement to form an inclusive government accepted by all Iraqi sects. “The effort collapsed in factional acrimony in less than half an hour,” said the New York Times. However, one thing was agreed upon among Sunnis and Kurds, along with some Shiites — they insisted that Prime Minister Al-Maliki must go. Thank God.

But any attempt to unify a country with multi-ethnic factions like Iraq, or any attempt to eliminate terrorism by Islamic extremists, will fail unless Muslims make efforts to correctly understand their religion as revealed to the Prophet Mohamed, and follow His example and that of His first four successors, the Al-Khulafaa Al-Rashedoon (the righteous successors), and the rules of civil government that the Prophet established in Medina and then in Mecca after defeating the Pagans of Al-Hijaz. Islamic sects were named after Islamic scholars, who were sometimes pressured by the Caliphs to interpret Sharia to serve their purposes.

Islamic scholars from all sects should have a dialogue and agree on eliminating the sects, leaving the door open for new interpretations of Sharia according to changes in circumstances and the interests of the people. Without that, Islamic Sharia will continue to be static and the sectarian rift will continue.

The writer is an international lawyer.

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