Sunday, August 21, 2016

     Iraq: Battleground Between Islamists and Secularists

by Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker

World Defense Review, June 17, 2008                                                                                           
AINA (Assyrian International News Agency), June 19, 2008

Monica Duffy Toft, professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, recently published an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “Why Islam lies at the heart of Iraq's civil war”[1]. In her article, Toft, a recognized scholar on civil war, especially in the modern Arab world, suggests that it is the Sunni-Shiite divide that fuels the war in Iraq—that the war essentially is a religion-centered civil war. I am not an expert in civil wars, but my contacts in the Middle East and amongst Iraqis, both Sunni and Shiite, cause me to see things differently, although I agree that Islam is a major factor in the civil war in Iraq. As I see it, that which fuels the war it is the friction between those that view Islam in a fundamentalist manner, and wish to establish an Islamic, Shari‘ah–based government, and those that wish to produce a secular democracy. There are Shiites and Sunnis—as well as Kurds—on both sides of the conflict. Without realizing it, Toft has admitted as much when she writes: “But today, the conflict has grown to include Shiites against fellow Shiites.”[2]

Unfortunately, the rush to hold national elections on December 15, 2005, did not result in the Iraqi electorate participating in a balanced manner. A Sunni boycott, plus Shiite fundamentalist chicanery, and wholesale Iranian aid to stuff the ballot box, resulted in the election of a greater Shiite fundamentalist block—principally the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)[3], led by Ayatollah Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, and the Dawa Party, whose militia is run by the cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. The result has been a government that represented only the religious block of the Shiite population, and in coalition, the Kurds, particularly those aligned closely to the Islamic Republic of Iran, such as Jalal Talabani, Iraq's current president. Given Iran's desire to dominate Iraq, and to cause the U.S.-led Multinational Force as much grief as possible by its support and arming of SCIRI/SIIC's Badr and Wolf Brigades and al-Sadr's Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), as well as the Sunni al-Qaeda in Iraq, the resulting sectarian warfare was to be expected. But it should be realized, as it was by many within the Sunni camp, that al-Qaeda in Iraq was a foreign body, unconcerned with Iraq's welfare. In time, many within the Shiite camp began to realize that Iran's interference in Iraq likewise was detrimental to Iraqi national interests. Although the jury is still out on the subject, it would seem that Prime Minister Dr. Nouri al-Maliki, himself a long-time member of the al-Dawa Party, maybe has come to a similar conclusion in recent months.

If the maze of Iraqi Shi‘ite and Sunni political parties has one confused, maybe an allegory will help clarify the situation. During World War II, the Allies invaded Italy to remove the fascist tyrant Benito Mussolini. Five years ago the Allies invaded Iraq to remove the tyrant Saddam Hussein. Now our allegory: the Allies decided that Italy needed to hold elections to establish a democracy in that country, but because of internal squabbles and the support that had been given to Mussolini, most of the voters in the north and central sections of Italy did not participate in the election. As a result, two political parties from the southern part of the country—actually from Sicily—won the election with the largest block in the new government's parliament. When the dust finally settled, the Allies discovered that those two parties that had been democratically elected—well, if you don't count all the dead Italians that voted or the arm twisting that took place before the elections—were the Mafia and the Costa Nostra. And that is why so many ordinary Italians were not happy with the government that the Allies brought them. Except that this tragic story took place in Iraq and not in Italy and its disastrous results currently have been being playing out in the land between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

Lest we compound the problems in Iraq, both for the Iraqi people and for ourselves, by pulling our forces out of Iraq too quickly, thereby giving Iran and her radical fundamentalist Shi‘ite-block allies a chance to dominate Iraqi society and to impose a fundamentalist Islamist law code on that nation, we need to realize that not all Shi‘ite Iraqis are fundamentalists, nor are all Sunni Iraqis Islamic fundamentalists. Indeed, at least half of the Iraqi electorate today is anti-fundamentalist and clearly opposed to the imposition of Islamic Shari‘ah law and the interference of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Iraq's internal affairs.[4]

In 2004, as the Sunni insurrection was beginning to heat up, and as internecine strife began to see the waves of “ethnic cleansing” assassinations between Sunnis and Shiites, a little-known group resident in Iraq's Diyala Province was performing an act of “magic”. The disarmed Iranian resistance organization, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK)[5], resident in Camp Ashraf, brought together groups of Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians to reconcile and to form an anti-fundamentalist Iraqi coalition. Today, that coalition, the Solidarity Congress of Iraq, numbers over 5.2 million supporters, or roughly one half of the Iraqi electorate.

Now, who is the Solidarity Congress of Iraq? This anti-fundamentalist coalition is led by a Board of Directors which includes Dr. Abdullah Rasheed al-Jabouri[6] (Chair), Shiekh Kamel Omran Attiyya (First Deputy Chair), Karima Dawoud al-Jawari (Second Deputy Chair). The following groups are part of this anti-fundamentalist coalition: the Association of Friendship and Solidarity with the People of Iran, the National Association of Struggle Against Fundamentalism and Terrorism, the Association of Independent Jurists, the National Dialogue Front of Iraq-Diyala, the National Front of the Tribes of Iraq, the National Unity Front for a Free Iraq, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Islamic Party of Iraq, the Peace Party, Iraq's Council for National Dialogue, the Congress of Natives of Iraq, and the Nationalist Elite of Independent Iraq.[7]                                                                                                                               .
The brave members of the Solidarity Congress have risked their lives and continue to risk their lives to stand up and oppose Islamic fundamentalism, both Sunni and Shi‘ite, and Arab and Kurd. Fallen comrades in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism include Ms. Amereh Abdul-Karim Al-Aqabe,[8] president of the Iraqi Women's Syndicate (ISW), abducted and brutally murdered because she was a fierce opponent to the Iranian regime's blatant interference in Iraqi political, social, and economic affairs, Abdul-Rahim Nasrallah, leader of the secular National Justice and Progress Party and chairman of the board of directors of the party's Shaabiya satellite television station,[9] Ayatollah Mohammad Moussawi Qasemi,[10] a prominent Shi‘ite cleric and secretary general of the Islamic Unity Party in Iraq, Mohammad Qassem Ahmed al-Bayati,[11] governor of Soleiman-bak near the northern city of Kirkuk, Muhammad Shihab al-Dulaymi,[12] spokesman for the Maram[13] alliance—a coalition of 42 Sunni and secular political groups including the Iraqi Accord Front, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, and the secular Iraqi National ist headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi—dedicated to contesting rigged elections, and Major General Amer al-Hashemi,[14] brother of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, whose sister Meysoun and brother Mahmoud were assassinated earlier last year. All of these anti-fundamentalist martyrs had spoken out in opposition to Iranian domination of Iraq and had supported the Iranian anti-fundamentalist opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq as a force for moderation, tolerance and secular democracy both in Iran and Iraq.[15]

Professor Toft writes: “In Iraq, a negotiated settlement is going to be very difficult for two reasons. First, the Shiites will want to remain in almost complete control due to two entirely legitimate concerns: (1) fears of Sunni repression as experienced in the past, and (2) a sense of majority-rule justice. Second, the Shiites themselves are divided on how Iraq should be ruled, so it's difficult to know whom to bargain with on the Shiite side, and therefore who can credibly commit to abide by the terms of any settlement.”[16] She continues: “What then can the United States and its allies do to bring about a negotiated settlement? Ironically, the best way to support a negotiated settlement would be to leave Iraq.”[17]

It appears to me that Toft has no idea about the existence of the Solidarity Congress and its anti-fundamentalist approach, nor to its intention to wrest political power from the hands of the fundamentalists. Withdrawal before the next national election, theoretically slated for roughly twenty months from now, would be an act akin to pulling the rug out from under all those that oppose fundamentalism and Iranian domination. Not only would it cause a major increase in violence—some have predicted a virtual bloodbath—but it would also leave an abiding impression in the Arab and Moslem world that the U.S. and its allies don't have the cajones to stick to supporting their Middle East friends when the going gets tough. That is not an impression that we would want to foster.

Additionally, as Toft herself admits, “a US withdrawal would lead to the emergence of a non-secular, non-democratic government in Iraq. It would be more friendly toward Iran (though not Iran's puppet, as currently feared), but less friendly toward Israel…”[18] Toft makes the assumption that the Sunnis and Shiites will unite against the Kurds and Iranians, but—if such a dubious scenario occurs—that still leaves an Iraq divided from its Kurdish population, hardly a peaceful solution for the Iraqi nation.

I sense that Toft's agenda is that of the “cut and run crowd”. As I have gotten to know secular Iraqis over the past half decade, and number several as friends, that is not a fate that I would wish upon them or their countrymen. Our decision to enter Iraq in 2003 may have been faulty, but leaving before giving democracy a fighting chance to get established, is nothing short of an unconscionable act of betrayal. Monica: come out of your ivory tower and meet the good people of Iraq who you are prepared to abandon to their cruel fate at the hands of the fundamentalists and jihadists. No, thank you! This country can and should do a lot better than what Professor Toft suggests.
[1] Monica Duffy Toft, “WHY ISLAM LIES AT THE HEART OF IRAQ'S CIVIL WAR”, Christian Science Monitor, June 2, 2008,
[2] Ibid.
[3] SCIRI renamed itself in 2007 as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC).
[4] Dan Rabkin, “Iraqis Stand United Against Tehran”, International Analyst Network, June 15, 2008, Also see: THE MEDIA LINE AGENCY, “Iraqi Shi'ites to Iran: Stop interfering”, The Jerusalem Post, June 15, 2008,,
and The Media Line Staff, Two Million Iraqi Shi'ites to Iran: Stop Interfering”, The Media Line, June 15, 2008,
[5] The Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a 43-year old Iranian resistance organization dedicated to regime change in Iran, desires to bring a secular democratic government to their homeland, and has been resident in Iraq since 1986. Although welcomed by the late Saddam Hussein, the MEK refrained from any involvement in Iraqi affairs during Saddam's rule, simply using their bases in Iraq as a staging area for their attacks on the tyrannical Iranian mullah regime. In May 2003, they negotiated a disarmament agreement with the Multinational Force, and after a sixteen month investigation of any possible ties to terrorism, none being found, were accorded the status of “Protected Persons” under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The MEK is now protected by units of the Multinational Force at Ashraf City. On May 7, 2008, the UK high court confirmed that the MEK has no ties whatsoever to terrorism, and demanded that the government of the UK immediately remove them from the Proscribed Organizations list.
[6]Dr. al-Jabouri is former governor of Diyala Province, and has escaped 14 attempts on his life, engineered by the Iranian regime's Sepah-e Qods (Qods Force) of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or its proxies in Iraq. Not all of his bodyguards were as fortunate. See: James Morrison, Embassy Row: “Iranian Influence”, Washington Times, May 12, 2005,
[7] NCRI, “Declaration by 5.2 m Iraqis condemns Iran Regime's terrorist threats, supports PMOI”, June 21, 2006,
[8] See NCRI, “The mullahs' agents abducted and brutally murdered president of Iraqi Women Syndicate”, , January 18, 2007.
[9] See Iran Focus: “Iran targets Iraqi nationalists”, London, October 13, 2006,, and Shahab Sariri, “Iraq's Struggle against Tehran Sponsored Extremism”, Global Politician, April 14, 2007,
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Maram is an Arabic acronym for Mutamar Rafadi al-Intikhabat al- Muzawwara (“Conference Rejecting Rigged Elections”).
[14] Iran Focusloc. cit.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Toft, loc. cit.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.

Professor Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching government officials and the public of the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism and the need to establish genuine democratic institutions in the Middle-East as an antidote to the venom of such fundamentalism. The organization's web site is

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