Iraq: May 17, 2005


The organization known as "al Qaeda in Iraq" made one of its rare public announcements, accusing the United States of setting off the suicide car bombs that had killed so many Iraqis lately. Some Iraqis will actually believe this. Iraqis were also warned against participating in the writing of a new constitution. Al Qaeda believes that Iraq, and the entire Islamic world, should be run according to Sharia (Islamic law, as found in the Koran and interpreted by Islamic scholars and clerics.) Thus al Qaeda views the recent elections as blasphemy. These views have not got much support in Iraq. The only thing that keeps al Qaeda alive is the support of Sunni Arabs, especially the deposed Baath Party, that want Sunni Arabs back in power. 

Al Qaeda is a Sunni operation which, unfortunately, considers Shia Moslems (who comprise about 60 percent of the Iraqi population) to be heretics. Another twenty percent are Kurds who, while Sunnis, see al Qaeda as anti-Kurd. There is a small number of Kurdish al Qaeda supporters, who have not been able to do much because Kurds will not support them. Increasingly, al Qaeda has had to use terror to gain the support of Sunni Moslems. This does not work in the long run, and now many Sunni Arabs are turning on al Qaeda. Unlike successful revolutionary movements of the past, al Qaeda has not developed a winning set of tactics. This is probably why, although al Qaeda gets a lot of lip service from Moslems, especially Moslems angry at their government, al Qaeda has not been able to actually take control of any country, or even parts of countries. 

In Afghanistan, it was the Taliban, a religious organization based on the customs of a few Pushtun tribes, that took over the country. That had happened before, many times, when one tribe or another maneuvered itself into power for a while. In Iran, the country is run by a powerful coalition of Shia clerics. These men also believe the world should be run according to Sharia law, but using the Shia version. This is considered heretical by Sunni Islamic conservatives (which includes most al Qaeda members.) The clergy took over control of Iran by getting the constitution changed during the desperate war with Iraq in the 1980s. The Iranian clerics believe in democracy, as long as the clerics have the last word. This has ruined the Iranian economy and made most Iranians miserable. Most Iraqi Shia want not part of this sort of thing in Iraq. 

Al Qaeda believes, really believes, that the suicide bombings and murder of Iraqis who disagree with them will work because the al Qaeda zealots are doing God's Will.  Some al Qaeda members have other, more dangerous ideas about subverting democratically elected governments. But these free thinkers are considered deluded and borderline blasphemers. Al Qaeda is all about being holier than thou, and there is nothing more devout that martyring oneself for the cause. This, of course, limits ones usefulness to the organization. As a result, the al Qaeda leadership goes through a lot of turnover and makes it difficult for the organization to grow in experience and effectiveness. This is being seen rather vividly in Iraq. 

Now that there's an Iraqi government in charge, and Iraqi ministers running all departments, changes are occurring. The government has banned raids on mosques. The United States stayed away from mosques for about a year, but then began raiding them when it became obvious that gunmen and terrorists had taken over the mosque compounds as headquarters because they knew they were safe. American troops used Iraqi police or soldiers to make many of the raids, and in the last year, Iraqi police commandoes have made many mosque raids on their own. As a result of all this, terrorists don't use mosques as much as they used to. Thus the gesture, towards devout Sunni Arabs, to stop the raids. The government believes that instead, mosques used by terrorists can be shut down and mosque administrators arrested. Unlike Americans, the Iraqis are quick to arrest family members of people they are looking for. This usually forces the suspects to turn themselves in. If the "no-raids" policy does not work, the raids will be resumed. The government didn't say that. They didn't have to' Everyone understood it.



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