[Marxism] RE: Asia Times on Mosque Explosion

Calvin Broadbent calvinbroadbent at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 3 06:23:12 MST 2004

Here is an article from today's Asia Times, which seems to echo my immediate 
analysis of the horrible massacre. Who do people think is behind this 
reactionary killing?

Middle East

A constitution drenched in blood
By Pepe Escobar

This is the new Iraq - where the process for a new democratic constitution 
is greeted by the specter of civil war.

On midnight last Saturday the Iraq Governing Council (IGC) failed to meet a 
deadline - imposed by American proconsul L Paul Bremer -  to reach agreement 
on a draft constitution. Bremer himself intervened, applying heavy pressure. 
At 4:30am on Monday, the IGC proclaimed that it had finally agreed on a 
draft. Then on Tuesday morning the devastating anti-Shi'ite attacks took 
place in Baghdad and Karbala.

As early as Tuesday afternoon, fingers were already pointing toward a 
suspect, alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose purported 
letter was unearthed last month on a computer disk that fell into US hands 
and which supplies the perfect motive: al-Qaeda wants a civil war in Iraq.

How did Iraq slide in 24 hours from adopting a draft constitution that could 
pave the way for democracy into a state where civil war is a definite step 
closer? Simple. Blame it on al-Qaeda. It's the easy way out. But the attacks 
against the Shi'ites must be interpreted in light of what happened behind 
the closed doors of the US-appointed IGC during the weekend.

Divide and rule
A united Iraqi nation resisting the massive presence of US and other foreign 
troops in its territory, even after the transfer of sovereignty on June 30, 
would be a troublesome prospect. So no wonder articles have already popped 
up in the New York Times and the French daily Le Figaro calling for a 
partition of Iraq. The argument is that the unity of the Iraqi nation is a 
mirage: the country can only be governed by brute force (Saddam 
Hussein-style, but without the massacres). Over the years, Washington 
figures from many sides of the political spectrum have consistently voiced 
the same opinion.

According to the British imperial maxim of "divide and rule", three small 
states - Kurd, Sunni and Shi'ite - would be much easier to control than the 
Iraq construct put together by the British themselves. The operation would 
also fulfill neo-conservative dreams of deporting Palestinians from the West 
Bank to a putative Sunni mini-Iraq. Defenders of the idea mention Yugoslavia 
as a successful example of a modern partition.

The drama of building a new Iraq centers on how tribe, religion and 
national, regional and ethnic identities can be integrated into a national 
political system capable of incorporating all parties and reflecting real 
power balances. This immense undertaking cannot possibly be addressed by a 
body, the IGC, chosen by the occupying force and totally divorced from the 
general population, which calls it "the imported government". Those who want 
the partition of Iraq simply don't understand how religion, 
ethno-nationalism and statehood coexist in this eastern flank of the Arab 
nation. Iraqis want a united country: they regard themselves first and 
foremost as Iraqis; then as Arabs (80 percent of the population), members of 
the great Arab nation; and then finally as Sunni or Shi'ite.

Who's blaming whom?
Predictably, the IGC as a whole follows the Pentagon screenplay and blames 
the multiple carnage in Baghdad and Karbala on al-Zarqawi - the 
Jordanian-born alleged al-Qaeda operative with a US$10 million bounty on his 
head. Zarqawi fought in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s, 
as well as alongside the Taliban in the autumn of 2001. For US Secretary of 
State Colin Powell, Zarqawi before the war on Iraq was the missing link 
between Saddam and the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, based in Iraqi 
Kurdistan. Now the Pentagon considers Zarqawi the No 1 al-Qaeda terrorist 
involved with Iraq.

In the Sunni Arab world, nobody believes in the veracity of the now-famous 
Zarqawi letter found on a computer disk. It couldn't be more convenient in 
the ways it outlines a full strategy for attacks on the Shi'ites. The writer 
in the Zarqawi letter lists four key enemies to be fought: Americans, Iraqi 
security forces, Kurds and Shi'ites. Provoking Shi'ites, he writes, is the 
way to set in motion a whole hellish circle of retaliation. The letter 
reads: "If we succeed in dragging them [Shi'ites] into the arena of 
sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as 
they feel imminent danger and annihilating death."

It's instructive to examine how the Shi'ites are responding to the 
provocation. Among the Shi'ites on the lGC, moderate Mowaffaq al-Rubaie has 
blamed the carnage on Zarqawi. But most crucially he echoes a nationalist 
stance shared by most Iraqis, irrespective of their religious belief: 
"Sunnis, Shi'ites, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, all Iraqis are determined to 
move forward. United we stand to build a new Iraq."

Hamid al-Bayati, a top official from the best-organized Shi'ite political 
party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, also blamed 
al-Qaeda, but in tandem with "Saddam loyalists". "The people behind this act 
are what remains of the regime, backed by people like al-Qaeda, with the 
goal of igniting civil strife. But we are aware of this danger and will not 
succumb to it."

Feelings on the Shi'ite street are likely to be much more complex. Some will 
indeed say that the carnage is a provocation to engage them in a civil war. 
But they will be divided on who ordered it.

There are some telling signs. Shi'ite survivors of the attacks in Baghdad 
instinctively hurled stones at US troops in their Humvees and armored 
vehicles as they approached the square outside the Kadhim shrine where the 
attacks took place. In many hospitals in the area, some were blaming the 
Americans - for the war, for the occupation, for the lax security - and 
others were blaming al-Qaeda and Wahhabi extremists. In Karbala, the Shi'ite 
mob turned against Iranian pilgrims - even though the ministry of interior 
in Tehran said that 40-50 Iranians were among the dead and wounded in both 

Shi'ite cleric Sheik Sayyed Akeel al-Khatib said the attacks were 
perpetrated by suicide bombers. "This means they came from abroad and were 
not Iraqis." Shi'ites are overwhelmingly sure that Muslims could not 
possibly commit these crimes at the height of Ashura - the 10th day of the 
Muslim month of Muharram, when Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet 
Mohammed, was killed in battle nearly 1,400 years ago. Imam Hussein's tomb 
is under a golden-domed shrine in Karbala only a few steps away from the 
blasts. Thaer al-Shimri, a member of the al-Dawa Party, says that "war has 
been launched on Islam". So, according to a dominant Shi'ite perception, 
this had to be the work of non-believers.

US intelligence may have thought about the possibility of attacks during 
Ashura. Security apparently was improved by the US-trained Iraqi police 
around Karbala and other Shi'ite towns in the south. Karbala currently falls 
under Polish control. The Polish and Iraqi police closed the main road 
leading to the tomb of Imam Hussein and installed plenty of checkpoints - to 
no avail. In Beirut, Sheikh Hamed Khalaf, one of the spokesmen for Grand 
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a key Iraqi Shi'ite leader, laid the blame 
directly on American soldiers for the attacks: after all, they are 
responsible for security in Iraq. This can be interpreted as the Grand 
Ayatollah's view.

Sources confirm to Asia Times Online that there's a pervasive feeling in the 
Shi'ite street that the multiple carnage was a bloody message by the 
Americans to Sistani: stop demanding direct elections, or else. On top of 
it, we have Shi'ites indistinctly blaming the Americans and Wahhabis - a 
code for al-Qaeda. This means that there is a clear perception in the 
Shi'ite street that the agenda of both Washington and al-Qaeda is the same: 
both sides want civil war. The Americans can invoke chaos as a reason to 
prolong the occupation and fight "terrorism". And Islamist groups profiting 
from a link with the brand name "al-Qaeda" can keep focusing Islamists 
everywhere in the anti-American jihad going on in Iraq.

The most important element in the equation is that practically no Shi'ites 
are directly blaming Sunnis - or vowing revenge. This proves once again that 
the resistance against the occupation has forged its own unity.

Will Sharia and democracy co-exist?
The two volcanic issues dividing the IGC in the debate about the draft 
constitution were the role of Islam in Iraq and Kurdish demands for 
federalism. It's no secret that most in the IGC - Shi'ites but also Sunnis - 
are in favor of Sharia law. The key question was a dispute over a move to 
make divorce and inheritance rights subject to Sharia. During Saddam's 
regime, these were enshrined women's rights. Women at the IGC had to lobby 
very hard not to lose them.

The IGC couldn't agree on Kurdish autonomy in the north of Iraq, nor on how 
to share power between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds. So even before Bremer's 
intervention the specter of civil war was very much alive.

Bremer had threatened to veto any law that included inheritance and divorce 
subjected to Sharia. Young Shi'ite firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr even 
made vague threats of armed resistance if Bremer used the veto. And to 
complicate matters further, Shi'ites and Sunnis alike were not only against 
Kurdish autonomy, but their demands to include oil-rich Kirkuk in their 
Iraqi Kurdistan.

The compromise announced may satisfy religious clerics, liberal democrats, 
Kurdish autonomists and of course the occupying power; but it only happened 
under the threat of Bremer's gun. In theory, the draft constitution 
guarantees the rights of women inside their families and a quota of 25 
percent of women in future Iraqi legislative bodies. Islam is not "the" 
primary source of legislation - but one of them: so any future legislation 
cannot be contrary to Islamic principles.

The key problem remains: Who will define the compatibility between secular 
legislation and Sharia? And how to ensure that no law in the new Iraq is 
contrary to either democracy or Islamic principles?

Iraqi Kurdistan will remain autonomous until an elected parliament and a 
legitimate government are able to decide its future. Shi'ites and Sunnis 
also anticipate the possibility that three regions anywhere in the country 
may decide to form a federation. Among the 18 Iraqi regions, three have a 
Kurdish majority, three have a Sunni majority, nine have a Shi'ite majority 
and three are an ethnic patchwork.

No major controversy has really been solved by this draft constitution. It's 
an extremely provisional document that the administration of US President 
George W Bush can brandish like a "victory" on the path toward a new Iraq. 
The rules of the game are in place for the transition between June 30 - when 
a local authority will come to power - and national elections to be held by 
next January. Only after this election will a constituent assembly rewrite a 
definitive charter - in theory based on the draft one.

A future Iraq as a federalist state like India, Canada or Brazil, with a 
system whereby regions enjoy large autonomy, remains a project. The devil is 
in the details.

Nobody knows how an Iraqi interim government - to rule from June 30 until 
the elections - will be chosen. The United States will open its largest 
embassy in the world on July 1 in Baghdad. It will totally control the 
interim government. And it will rely on more than 100,000 US troops 
stationed in Iraq. "What handover?" asks a Shi'ite businessman in Baghdad. 
Millions of Shi'ites - all of them oblivious to the non-transparent 
machinations inside the IGC - fear that the de facto occupation may last for 
years. The draft constitution was due to be signed by Bremer on Wednesday - 
before the IGC declared three days of mourning for the victims of the 
multiple carnage. Now it will probably be inked on Friday. The draft 
constitution was born, as the White House wanted. But it was born already 
drenched in Shi'ite blood.

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact 
content at atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

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