Baghdad, June 20 — Sunnis are carrying out almost daily attacks against American soldiers in the north and west of the country, whereas members of the Shia majority, who are concentrated in the south, have largely opted for a diplomatic approach.
“The Sunnis’ priority is to fight the Americans whereas the Shias’ priority is to fight the Sunnis,” charged prominent cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Kobaissy, summing up the feelings of many fellow Sunnis.
U.S. forces have in recent weeks come under repeated attacks in Sunni-populated regions extending from Baghdad to the north and west, prompting the U.S. army to launch major operations to root out resistance.
Desert Scorpion, unleashed almost a week ago, has so far netted some 400 people, while 113 were killed in an earlier offensive, dubbed Peninsula Strike.
In contrast, the Shia-dominated south has been generally quiet, in keeping with instructions from the Shia religious establishment, or Hawza, to pursue the liberation of Iraq through political means.
The Shia Muslims and Kurdish groups have rejoiced at Saddam’s ouster. Both were both brutally suppressed by Saddam’s rule, while the strongman’s fellow Sunnis held most positions of power and reaped the benefits of his protection.
“We have to make every political effort possible to hasten the end of the occupation,” said Shia leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, whose Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) was the main Shia group opposing Saddam.
It called for “dialogue with the U.S., moulding Iraqi public opinion to apply pressure” and the setting up of an Iraqi administration to fill the political vacuum left by Saddam’s ouster.
Kobaissy, who heads the United Iraqi National Party, said attacks against American troops were “individual actions” expressing people’s anger rather than an effective resistance.
“These are individual actions which we do not support because they are not organised and are inappropriate at this point,” he said, adding it would take two years for an organised resistance to shape up.
But he said the attacks, which have claimed the lives of more than a dozen American soldiers since the beginning of May, were a response to “the excesses committed by U.S. troops against Sunnis“.
The Shias have been spared such excesses, the cleric said, hinting that the Americans were wooing the Shia majority.
As if to prove him right, Iraqi television, which is controlled by the U.S.-led coalition, has for a week been airing calls to prayer Shia-style, a first in Iraq’s modern history.
“They are lucky, they feel they are in a strong position. So why wouldn’t they take advantage of it?” Kobaissy said of the Shias.
Whereas the Sunnis are divided, with the mainly Sunni Kurds clearly on the side of the coalition, the Shias, who make up some 65 percent of the population, “are united vis-a-vis the Sunni Arab minority … which is fighting for the end of the occupation“.
“History will record that the Shias divided the Iraqis and that the Sunnis fought” against U.S. occupation, Kobaissy said.
But the Sunni leader said that given that the balance of forces favoured the coalition, he had to be “realistic” and his party would be prepared to take part in a future Iraqi government, “even if it is formed by the Americans“.
“We would support any government formed with the participation of Iraqis… It would be a first step,” he said, adding that he expected the occupation to drag on “for 60 years” as it had “long-standing and long-term goals“.
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.