Iraq: Standing Firm in Face of the Occupation

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It is a big step to describe what is currently going on in Iraq as a "civil war", but I think we can say that we are witnessing the beginnings of such a conflict.

The proof is that there are sectarian attacks targeting holy sites and mosques, and we are seeing incidents of ethnic cleansing - Shia families are having to leave Sunni areas.

In the Sadr Tendency, we argue that there are three factions responsible for what is happening. Firstly, the occupation, secondly the Baathists, and thirdly extremist sectarian groups such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organisation that believe in excommunicating fellow Muslims who do not agree with them. The occupiers have legal responsibility for what has happened as they created opportunities for the Baathists and groups like Zarqawi's.

Yet in reality sectarianism doesn't have deep roots in our society. There are many Iraqi families made up of different religious and national backgrounds. There is a great deal of mixing between Sunni and Shia, between Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and all the other groups which make up Iraqi society.

I can give you the example of my own family. I have three aunts on my father's side who have married three Sunni men. My uncle on that side is married to a Sunni Kurdish woman. The wife of one of my uncles on my mother's side is a Turkmen, while another uncle on that side is married to a Sunni. My sister is married to a Sunni. If you go to Basra you'll find Sunni and Shia. In fact in every province of Iraq you'll find Sunni and Shia. I have Shia relatives who live in Ramadi province, which is a mainly Sunni area.

The occupation has caused the sectarian problem. At times the occupation gets close to one faction and retreats from another. So the second faction loses the political gains it has made and tries to regain its advantage by taking extreme positions to demonstrate that they are still there. This political rhetoric has an effect on the social, economic and security situation. As the political situation has deteriorated, this has been accompanied by a big deterioration in security. The presence of the occupation and its behaviour towards the Iraqi people has led to a violent reaction among those who are sympathetic to the extremist sectarian groups who came in the wake of the US invasion. Terrorism is increasing not decreasing in Iraq because of the role that the occupation is playing.

Combating sectarianism

The occupation has also deepened sectarianism by entrenching the idea of allotting government positions by sect, with the effect that politicians end up working for their own sects and not for the wider community. It is the duty of all Iraqi political parties to try and find a way of living together, through dialogue and cooperation in the interests of everyone.

We are taking steps to combat sectarianism. We aren't just issuing statements, but taking practical steps such as taking part in joint Sunni-Shia prayers. We are also constantly meeting with different groups to organise protest marches and rallies against the occupation in which both Sunni and Shia take part. We have relations with the majority of Sunni organisations, the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party, and other groups representing Sunni social, religious and political interests in Iraq.

We organised joint Friday prayers against the occupation in Kadhimiyya in the Sunni mosque of Abu Hanifa. These joint prayers are not a new initiative, but were something that Al-Sayyid al-Sadr, Moqtada al-Sadr's father, started even before the fall of the regime. Following the recent explosions in Samarra, Moqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqis - Sunni and Shia - to demonstrate against sectarianism and to pray together in their mosques. He contacted members of the Islamic Party and the Association of Muslim Scholars to organise joint prayers.

After seeing sectarian attacks, acts of ethnic cleansing, attacks on many Shia places of worship and the killing of Shia ulama (Islamic scholars), some people are asking, "Why is the Sadr Tendency working with Sunni groups?" There is great pressure on us from the Shia community and even from within our own organisation. But the leadership of the Sadr Tendency has decided to continue with our open relationships with different groups, as we have to stand firm in the face of what is happening in the country.


Sheikh Hasan al-Zarqani is the foreign spokesperson for the Sadr Tendency. Thanks to Anne Ashford for translating the article.