Iraqi Resistance Strives to Heal Sectarian Divisions

by Gerry Foley/ June 2005 issue of Socialist Action


The U.S. military’s response to the multiplication of deadly bombings and assassinations by the Iraqi resistance has had the by now familiar effect of

inflaming hatred of the imperialist occupation among the masses of Iraqis.


An Associated Press dispatch of May 12 reported on the reaction of civilians to a U.S. offensive in northern Iraq. Other military drives have been launched

recently in Baghdad and south of the capital.


“On the first day of a major U.S. offensive, two shells landed in Um Mazin's house. Grabbing what she could, she fled with four other women and 21 children.  They are now all sheltering in a single flimsy tent, braving sandstorms in the desert—one of scores of families who have fled the roar of fighter jets,

shattering gunfire and artillery barrages near the Syrian border.


”’We ran away from the American bombings,’ said Um Mazin, as the wind picked up, sending sand swirling around her. ‘The Americans do not hit the gunmen, they hit the houses of civilians.’”


The death toll of U.S. soldiers has been mounting, as resistance fighters have evidently fought desperately and effectively. In the months following the Iraqi

elections, it seems that al Qaida and similar groups, such as Ansar al Sunna, although they represent a small minority of the fighters, have played a larger

role, as the more politically conscious sections of the resistance reassessed the situation.


The Washington Post reported May 9: “The number of car bombings jumped from 64 in February to 135 in April, according to U.S. military statistics. The proportion of such attacks involving a suicide driver also soared, from about 25 percent to just over 50 percent.”


In April there were 67 suicide car bombings, a staggering number. The U.S. authorities claim that all the suicide bombers are volunteers from outside Iraq

and that there has not been a single proven case of an Iraqi deliberately blowing himself up.


However, U.S. officials concede that the great majority of the resistance fighters are Iraqis. That accounts for the large number of attacks, which have

climbed from 30 to 40 a day in February and March to about 70 a day now, according to the U.S. military.  The surge of resistance attacks since the January elections, according to public opinion polls, has dramatically reduced the percentage of Iraqis who believe that the situation in their country has

stabilized. That is, of course, a double-edged sword.  It reflects a lack of confidence in the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi government but also a feeling of insecurity that could become passive or active support for repression

of the resistance.


The U.S.-sponsored government has just restored the death penalty and is passing more repressive legislation.


A continuation of sectarian bombings aimed at Shiite crowds, the assassination of leading Shiite and Sunni clerics, and the continuing discoveries of dozens of bodies mysteriously murdered has cast an increasingly dark cloud over the resistance to the U.S. occupation.

Indeed, The New York Times reported in its May 23 edition that the major leader of the Shiite resistance, Muqtada Al Sadr, had announced that he was

giving priority to healing the division between Shiites and Sunnis over organizing military opposition to the imperialist domination of the country:

“Referring to the current wave of sectarian violence that Mr. Sadr said he wants to help defuse, he said, ‘Each period of time has its own necessities, and now I see that we face a political and cultural war.’ He also said: ‘We cannot face political war in a military action. The military war is to be faced with a military war, but the political war is to be faced with itself.’”


Al Sadr thus seemed to recognize that the prospects for effective resistance to U.S. military occupation and U.S. domination of the Iraqi government are dim

unless the tensions at least between the two main components of the Iraqi Arab population are overcome.  If the resistance comes to be seen as a war on Shiites and Kurds, who together make up a majority of the population, it has little chance of defeating either the occupiers or the government formed under their aegis. Moreover, an atmosphere of tit-for-tat killings opens the doors wide for provocative covert operations by the U.S. and Iraqi government services.


The sectarian tensions reached a new height in the third week of May after the Sunni Association of Muslim scholars accused a Shiite militia associated

with a group in the Shiite coalition that dominates the government of assassinating Sunni clerics. The website of the Arab nationalist TV channel Al Jazeera reported May 20: “Tensions between Shia and Sunni Muslims dominated sermons in Iraqi mosques, with Sunni leaders saying they would close the places of worship for three days to protest anti-Sunni assassinations.”


The Badr Brigades, who were accused of the killings, denied responsibility. But the dozens of mysterious murders are creating an atmosphere of suspicion that can provoke destructive outbursts. The same Al Jazeera

article noted that a firefight had broken out May 20 between armed men from a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad and others from a Sunni neighborhood. Al Sadr offered to mediate between the Sunni and Shiite organizations.


So far, however, these problems have not decisively weakened the resistance, and given the almost universal detestation of the U.S. occupation among

Iraqis, which is being constantly inflamed by the occupying forces’ “offensives,” the possibility remains that the resistance can unify and grow.  In any case, the projections coming from the U.S. military authorities are becoming grimmer and grimmer, as The New York Times reported May 19: “American military commanders in Baghdad and Washington gave a sobering new assessment on Wednesday of the war in Iraq, adding to the mood of anxiety that prompted

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to come to Baghdad last weekend to consult with the new government.”

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