July 18, 2015

THE SHI'A/CHRISTIAN ALLIANCE:

Only Iraq's clerics can win against Isis : Ironically, they are the ones who inspire men to fight and who can prevent sectarian division (PATRICK COCKBURN, 18 July 2015, Independent)
Almost a quarter of a century later, Iraq has been turned upside-down: Hussein Kamel, who led the Iraqi army assault that crushed the Shia rebellion, was murdered by his father-in-law, Saddam Hussein, who was himself executed in 2006. A Shia-dominated government rules today in Baghdad and the most influential person in Iraq is unquestionably the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Paradoxically, this has happened despite Sistani's conviction that true religion means keeping out of politics. This quietist version of Shia Islam contrasts with that espoused by Ayatollah Khomeini who established clerical rule in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. But the moral authority of Sistani over Iraq's Shia majority after the invasion of 2003 was such that the occupiers found that they could not rule in opposition to his wishes.

Had all gone smoothly, a state run by Shia parties would have held power after the American forces departed and the Shia clergy might have retreated from politics. But the rise of the self-styled Islamic State (Isis), and its capture of Mosul in 2014 and Ramadi this year, discredited both the Iraqi army and government. Despite the billions of dollars it had spent or stolen, it utterly failed when it came to defending its own people.

As the army disintegrated last year, a fatwa issued by Sistani on 13 June called for men to take up arms against Isis. It immediately brought into being a powerful, enthusiastic, if ill-trained, volunteer force numbering at least 50,000. The main fighting force of the Baghdad government today is these "Popular Mobilisation Units" or Hashd al-Shaabi, which have been fighting with some success against Isis-controlled pockets around Baghdad.

A decisive moment is coming in the next few months. The Hashd and elite Iraqi army units have surrounded Fallujah and are bombarding it. It was Isis's capture of Fallujah, only 40 miles west of Baghdad, in January last year, and the Iraqi army's failure to recapture it, that foreshadowed the military defeat of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later in the summer. The new attack on Fallujah needs to succeed if Isis is ever to be defeated.

There is optimism among clergy and military officers in Najaf and Karbala about the outcome of the battle. This is primarily because in the past the Iraqi regular armed forces, the Hashd and the Americans, while all opposed to Isis, have acted as rivals rather than combining their efforts. Mohammed Ali Bahr Ulloum, an influential cleric in Najaf, says that the struggle for Tikrit was messy "because the forces opposing Daesh [Isis] were divided, but at Fallujah they are united". He is encouraged by the delivery of four F-16 fighter bombers to the Iraqi air force by the US.

The anti-Isis forces have no option but to unite if they are to win. 

Posted by at July 18, 2015 7:11 PM
  

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