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In Iraq's Sunni heartland, rebels have a new cause

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
In Iraq's Sunni heartland, rebels have a new cause
They're against Saddam and occupiers

But the real fear is rising Shiite power


FALLUJA, Iraq— There is a new kind of resistance taking hold in this rebel stronghold of Iraq's seething Sunni triangle and its name is not Saddam Hussein.

Nor, in fact, is it composed of imported fighters serving the call of Al Qaeda.

Though Baath party loyalists and foreign jihadists are almost exclusively cited by American-led coalition authorities as the sources of the insurgency that continues to harass Iraq's stability, the streets of Falluja are filled with talk of a patriot uprising far more grassroots in nature.

On paper — and there is paper, in leaflet form, making the rounds in this city 60 kilometres west of Baghdad — at least one branch of the new resistance calls itself the Popular Iraqi Liberation Front.

Its avowed mission: ousting the occupation forces.

But not in the name of Saddam.

The group is calling for the United Nations, the Arab League and the Islamic Conference to take over the task of giving Iraq back to the Iraqis.

"The front claims its legal responsibility for all the armed actions against the American and British occupying forces and their allies," the pamphleteers said in a notice picked off a Falluja street this week.

"And it also announces its non-alliance with the oppressive Baath regime. There is no link between the current popular and national resistance and any oppressive Baath regime resistance."

In a threatening aside to the Iraqi police, the group warned that members of the newly constituted security force are under continuing surveillance and any information provided to the occupying forces "will cost you a just price."

And in an aside to Iraqis at large, the pamphleteers disclaim any responsibility for acts of sabotage against Iraqi infrastructure, blaming instead the Americans and British "as efforts to plant sedition and hatred between the resisters and the people."

Many in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland would love to persuade the rest of the country the conflict is as simple as this. But in one of the world's most complicated societies, it stands to reason that what exists now is one of the world's most complicated resistance movements.

There are indeed many Baath loyalists waging war, and indeed some foreign jihadists, although coalition sources privately admit their numbers may be far fewer than first believed.

And even those homegrown Iraqi mujahedeen warriors who denounce both Saddam and the occupation in the same breath appear to be fighting what they perceive as a horrifying threat to generations of Sunni privilege as much as an infidel occupation.

Fully eight months after the fall of Saddam, something appears to be happening in the Sunni Muslim heartland so favoured by his largesse. Pugnacious anti-Americanism remains as strong as ever, but the motivation behind it appears to be changing from an almost sullen longing for the way things were to a more survivalist and clearly sectarian view of what will come next.

"We confess Saddam was a bad man. And he was Sunni," said Falluja shopkeeper Omar Ali Jasm, 28, who described himself as "a sympathizer to the new Sunni political movement" represented by the pamphlets now papering the triangle.

`Iraq needs us. We are the only ones who can run this country. This is our history.'

Omar Ali Jasm, Sunni shopkeeper


"We in the resistance also hate him. Our struggle is not to get him back. It is about stopping the Shiites from taking power and destroying Iraq," he said.

"Iraq needs us. We are the only ones who can run this country. This is our history."

If Jasm and other Sunnis in Falluja suffer from a decidedly undemocratic sense of entitlement about the notions of the new Iraq, they come by it honestly. For it was not only Saddam, but also the British mandarins of the early 20th century, and indeed the Ottoman Turks, who saw in the Sunni minority the makings of natural leadership.

By contrast, Iraq's historically vanquished Shiite majority — now comprising at least 60 per cent of Iraq's estimated 25 million people — is warming to the idea of democracy as never before. Let the voting begin now is the message from the Shiite spiritual leaders of Najaf.

But with centuries of historic advantage at stake, the living generations of Sunnis weaned on 35 years of dictatorial brutality are starting to make the sounds of a post-Saddam ultimatum: no peace with democracy.

"The Shiites are not the kind of people who can rule even themselves, let alone a country," Jasm said. "They can play a role, but not as leaders. They are influenced by Iran. And we believe they will try to run the country according to religion. It won't work."

The overlapping tribal and Islamic loyalties of Iraq's Sunni population are all the more indecipherable now, as leaders in both camps duck journalists for fear of risking arrest on the basis of pro-resistance statements or, alternately, failing to empathize with grassroots resentment.

But in the backroads of Falluja, Sheikh Bilah Ahmed Ismail, an Islamic scholar specializing in sharia law, was unafraid to speak. Seated in a spartan living room as U.S. F-16 warplanes flew overhead, Ismail offered clear delineations on how and why the resistance will continue.

"Even many Sunnis suffered under Saddam. Some of the resistance is fighting in his name, but the stronger voice among Sunnis is fighting against his name," said Ismail.

"So the mujahedeen of the resistance, Saddam has nothing to do with them. Instead, they fight for two reasons: We will never accept colonization; we see a national task to drive the Americans from our country.

"And just as important, we fear Shiite power."

Ismail said the call has been taken up virtually across the tribal spectrum. And though the imams of Falluja and other Sunni cities have gone silent, their voice is hardly needed.

"There is no need for the imam to speak out. We already know. He will be arrested for speaking of jihad. Islam says very clearly that everybody is obliged to join jihad to defend people, country, property," he said.

Discord among the varying threads of rebellion centres on the targets. For Ismail and many others, the distinction between resistance and sabotage should be clearly drawn.

"Anyone who attacks a pipeline with bombs is wrong. They deserve to be turned in to the (coalition) authorities," he said.

"Anyone who attacks Iraqi policemen, they are also wrong. And anyone who would attack the United Nations, or the clerics of Najaf, they too are wrong.

"For these acts, I blame the infiltrators to Iraq. As Donald Rumsfeld confessed, Iraq is becoming a front for terrorism. We don't need these people. And it was the Americans who opened the borders and allowed them to come."

Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
And in an aside to Iraqis at large, the pamphleteers disclaim any responsibility for acts of sabotage against Iraqi infrastructure, blaming instead the Americans and British "as efforts to plant sedition and hatred between the resisters and the people."