Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Iraq Scene on al-Jazeera

Informed Comment

Juan Cole picks up on an interesting debate on al-Jazeera between: Dr Tariq al-Hashimi, secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party; Sa'd Jawad Qandil, member of the Political Bureau of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI] and Dr Ghassan al-Atiyah, director of the Iraqi Institute for Democracy and Development.

(translation all courtesy of BBC Monitoring)

Ghassan al-Atiyah has some interesting, if worrying, comments. He says "Today we are really in the furnace of civil war", and blames the resurgence of sectarian divisions on the CPA policy of allocating seats along ethnoreligious lines:

"Actually, the current situation is the result of a number of policies which began with the formation of the Governing Council and the way things were handled. Things were handled on a sectarian and ethnic basis. We were divided into Shi'is, Sunnis, Kurds, and Turkomans. There was no room for us to deal with each other as citizens. Posts were later distributed along these lines."

Tariq al-Hashimi agrees on that, though while al-Atiyah says that Iraqis as a whole are responsible for the descent into sectarian violence, al-Hasmihi maintains that it is the state of occupation that is the heart of the problem. He also blames al-Iraqiya:

"Incitement campaigns by Al-Iraqiyah television and other suspect channels and news media with the aim of planting the seeds of an abominable sectarianism must immediately stop." He adds that Al-Iraqiyah television "disseminated false claims by persons who claimed to have been involved in killings."

Presumably he's referring to the 'Terrorists in the Hands of Justice' programme, the brainchild of one General Adnan Thabit, a former Ba'athist from Samarra. Peter Maas has an excellent piece on the Special Police Commando unit which General Adnan commands in the NYT.

What's interesting is that all three emphasise the importance of national unity. Granted, all the groups have their conditions and interests that they want to guard/pursue, but I'm not left with the feeling of utter resignation to sectarian conflict that I got from spokespeople for the three sides in the Bosnian conflict. Back then Alijah Izetbegovic said something along the lines of "We have no choice but to be sectional".

That said, I'm equally worried by the increasing use of the terms 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing'. What is happening in some of the contested towns is indeed starting to resemble the low-level ethnic cleansing that was going on in Kosovo in the late 1990s. Fortunately we don't seem to be facing that scale of refugee problem at present - there are refugees, don't get me wrong, notably from Fallujah and al-Qaim but also even some left over from the Iran/Iraq war - but I don't think we're looking at the use of refugee flows as an instrument of war as they were in the Balkans. And for all the bad press the likes of Thabit and the Badr Brigades get (and ignoring for a second Zarqawi, who has similarities but completely different motivations and tactics), we don't seem to be seeing many Arkans knocking about. Violence is being used in a fairly controlled fashion - to destabilise the existing government and weaken the will of the Coalition, yes, but not to create the kind of absolute bloody chaos and havoc that was required for the attempted land-grabs in the Balkans. Should neo-Ba'athists succeed in seizing control of the state apparatus, they'd want to be able to impose order quite quickly so as to establish their legitimacy - so the national unity argument would work in their favour too.

At least, those are my thoughts. It's not often a productive game, fortune-telling.

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