Businessmen in "Sunni Triangle" move toward resistance in Iraq

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Tue Sep 30 02:36:46 MDT 2003

While we have been talking about other matters, things have been
getting worse for the imperialist occupation of Iraq.
Fred Feldman

Fear and anger in the Sunni triangle
By Pepe Escobar

RAMADI - Sheikh Khaled from the al-Halabsa family, established in the
outskirts of Fallujah on the road to Ramadi, is one of the most
powerful men in the Sunni triangle (Baghdad-Ramadi-Tikrit). Relaxed in
his dishdash robe, drinking tea on the porch of his house, facing an
immaculate garden and his own black Mercedes in the garage, he is
nonetheless a very pessimistic man: "We don't believe in American
promises. They have lied before the war 'promising democracy'. If
Americans believe in freedom and independence, why don't they let the
people vote for the Governing Council?" The sheikh adds that "even if
I had a family member in the Governing Council I would not trust them
because they were elected by tanks."

The sheikh echoes a popular sentiment all over the Sunni triangle that
the Americans themselves encouraged the widespread looting that so
traumatized Iraqis after the end of the war in April, "So they must
have an extra reason not to leave." The Americans negotiated with
regional sheikhs before entering Ambar - the province that includes
Ramadi and Fallujah and which is considered one of the richest in per
capita terms in Iraq. Most of the well-off in Ambar are contractors or
are in the transportation business. All mosques are private. According
to the sheikh "when the Americans occupied the land, they encouraged
looters to come here. I caught some of them myself."

The Americans were victims of a serious case of cultural
misunderstanding - according to the sheikh: "The Americans confiscated
all weapons. They encouraged looters to attack industrial complexes,
steal generators ... I told the American commander that we as sheikhs
cannot face our families because we have no weapons. If you can't
protect us, why did you take our weapons? The American commander then
said there would be military patrols. But there are no patrols - the
Americans are afraid. In al-Haswa there is one of the biggest storages
in the Middle East, it is central for the whole of Iraq. It has food,
cars, electrical appliances, spare parts ... looters attacked it armed
with RPGs. We were unarmed. The Americans didn't do anything." As a
result, now there is no dialogue between the sheikhs and the
occupation forces.

While the businessmen sheikhs in the Fallujah-Ramadi axis have lost
their patience, but stop short of admitting that they are financing
the resistance, the religious sheikhs are facing another kind of
problem. In Ramadi itself we are told that sheikhs who criticized the
American occupation in their Friday prayers were arrested. Sheikh
Salah and his brother, from Ramadi, say in fact that there was only
one high-profile case: a cleric who rhetorically bombed the occupation
forces was arrested for two months. So now clerics are much more
subtle. In last Friday's prayers, in a mosque contiguous to the Ramadi
bazaar, the basic resistance message was "we hope the Governing
Council is not who we think they are, so they have to listen to our
demands to be trusted". But at the end of his sermon, the sheikh could
not help but "ask God to destroy America and release Iraqis from the
occupation as soon as possible".

The Americans definitely need some public relations. Sheikh Salah and
his brother - prominent businessmen in Ramadi - are adamant that "in
the beginning most people in the city were against Saddam [Hussein].
With the occupation, now most want him back." The sheikh's brother
owns the best hotel in the city, closed four days before the war and
not yet reopened. The reason: no security. The Americans have no
military base in Ramadi: they are lodged in one of Saddam's former
palaces. Every day there are American patrols. According to Sheikh
salah, "Inside the city there are few attacks. But they are always
attacked in the highway [to the Jordanian border] and in the

People in Ramadi say that the Americans are attacked at least six
times every day: the Americans never admit more than one or two
attacks a day. Unlike the road from Baghdad to Samarra and Tikrit, the
road to Ramadi has no American checkpoints. Thieves holed up in the
desert, equipped with BMWs and Kalashnikovs, continue to attack
travelers on the Amman-Baghdad highway near Ramadi; but according to
locals "the Americans have not done anything to catch them". The
American checkpoint on the highway is in the wrong place - at least
100 kilometers away from Ramadi.

Ramadi has an American-installed mayor, Abdul Karim Barjes. Sheikh
Salah says "he never left his building" and unlike the mayor of
Fallujah, is not respected by the local population. People in Ramadi -
as well as in Fallujah - say that they saw Arab fedayeen (para-
military) only in the beginning of the war.

Most of all, people in Ramadi are angry because "the Americans have
done nothing for the city in five months", says Sheikh Salah. The
streets of Ramadi echo the same accusations heard in Fallujah:
American soldiers in their raids are taking gold, money and pistols
from people's houses. People are also very much aware of Ali Babas
(common thieves) turned Mukhabarat agents paid by the Americans.

The Governing Council is as unpopular and untrusted as anywhere in the
Sunni belt. Ahmad Chalabi, the current chairman, is perceived "as an
American agent. And he has American nationality. We would never vote
for him if there was an independent election". As far as a larger
United Nations role is concerned, Sheikh Salah expresses the local
consensus: "Whatever the UN does it is better than the occupation, as
a halfway solution. But we don't agree with any foreigners occupying

A striking refrain is heard across the Sunni triangle, from Baghdad to
Samarra, from Fallujah to Baqouba. As Sheikh Salah puts it, "If Saddam
came back again, he would rebuild Iraq in one month. After the [1991]
Gulf War, he rebuilt Iraq in 45 days." The people who are saying this
never in their lives were Ba'ath Party members.

The mood in the heart of the Sunni triangle all the way to Ramadi is
replicated in the very poor, working-class neighborhood called Fourth
Police, almost in the outskirts of Baghdad. Most people in this area
did support Saddam's regime and were Ba'ath Party members - and many
abandoned their weapons and did not fight during the last war. They
swear the resistance is composed of ordinary Iraqis. Practically
everybody is armed. "Islam tells us we have to resist occupation. We
will get rid of the Americans," says a local carpenter. Nobody has
detected any suspicious behavior by potential Arab fedayeen.

The anger in the Sunni triangle is pervasive. Workers are angry
because 400,000 civil servants were sacked, and because there are only
unknown exiles - 1,500 of them, mostly from the US and the UK -
working in the Iraqi Reconstruction Development Council. Sunnis are
angry because for the Americans the Kurdish region is the priority.
Businessmen are angry because there will be no role for companies from
Arab countries in the reconstruction process. Poor people are angry
because the UN scaled down its foreign staff to only 42 in Baghdad,
while relying on roughly 4,000 Iraqis for humanitarian work.
Law-abiding citizens are angry because former defense minister Sultan
Hashim Ahmad was granted immunity and was duly removed from the
American "pack of cards" listing 55 wanted people (he was number 27).
Everybody is angry because the US military cleared its troops in the
recent "friendly fire" incident in Fallujah which killed eight Iraqi

The only people with nothing to complain about are those in the
booming roadblock business - as the Americans bunker themselves out of
sight. After the surreal slalom by two Ali Babas in a stolen battered
Toyota on September 20, which cynics widely considered a trial run for
a car bombing, there's a new roadblock arrangement in front of the
Palestine-Sheraton hotel complex in Baghdad - which houses large
numbers of foreign journalists and American businessmen - the Aike
hotel - where some American media are staying - was attacked last
week. A trip through the Sunni triangle yields signs that no roadblock
will prevent the same from happening to the Palestine.

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