News and opinions on situation in Iraq
28/11/04 THE ROVING EYE The recipe for civil war By Pepe Escobar

Najaf was bombed in August. Samarra was bombed in September. Sadr City was bombed in October. Fallujah was bombed in November. Mosul may be bombed in December. And Kirkuk may be bombed in January.

This is the calendar in the runup to the Iraqi elections set for January 30 next year. Then there will be another set of questions. Will the Iraqi elections be stolen? Will votes “disappear”? Instead of Florida or Ohio, will there be demands for recounts in Fallujah and Samarra? Like Ukrainians in Kiev, will Sunnis in Baghdad take to the streets contesting the results of their elections? Will interim premier Iyad Allawi - with a little help from his Washington friends - prevail?

The mini civil wars

Fallujah plus elections amounts to civil war. This tragic equation may come to life in Iraq in early 2005. The official American rationale for the Fallujah offensive was to “stabilize” the country before the elections. This strategy may have paved the way to civil war. Ample evidence suggests that the majority of Sunnis - up to 30% of the population - will boycott the elections and denounce them as illegitimate, while Shi'ites, for the first time in Iraq, will be in power.

Baghdad sources tell Asia Times Online an American assault on Mosul - a city of 1 million - is inevitable. Allawi does not control even a kebab stand in multi-ethnic Mosul. The west bank of the Tigris is under total control of the resistance. The east bank is controlled by both Kurdish political parties and their peshmergas (paramilitaries). And the Turkoman minority controls a few sectors inside the city. There's a mini civil war already going on. Mosul is already the Iraqi Sarajevo.

A key pointer to this mini civil war was the assassination on Monday of Sheikh Faidh Muhammad Amin al-Faidhi, at his home, by three masked gunmen. Sheikh al-Faidhi, a Sunni, was widely respected by the Shi'ites and the Kurds in Mosul. He was an influential member of the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), which has forcefully condemned the Fallujah massacre and called for an election boycott.

His brother, Mohammed Bashar al-Faidhi, a spokesman for the AMS in Baghdad, believes he was killed by the Israeli Mossad, along with “some Iraqi elements”, meaning Allawi's agents. This observation, according to our sources in Baghdad, mirrors two widespread convictions among Sunnis: that the American-Allawi logic is “either you vote in our elections or we will kill you”; and that Israel is actively fomenting civil war inside Iraq.

When the assassination of Sheikh al-Faidhi is compounded with the Fallujah offensive and the American invasion of the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad last Friday - the symbolic birthplace of the Iraqi resistance in April 2003 - then one understands why Sunni anger has reached boiling point.

And Kirkuk is even worse

Az-Zaman, a London-based Arabic-language newspaper, recently detailed what's happening in Kirkuk. Haweeja is the main Arab neighborhood in Kirkuk. More than 100 Haweeja tribal leaders and clerics have declared it off-limits to the Americans, and are taking all matters - from security to rebuilding - in their own hands. They have also vowed to take care of any infiltrating “armed groups”. The problem is these “armed groups” are none other than Kurdish peshmerga, who swarm all over the city. The Kurds are extremely incensed. No wonder: Kirkuk, apart from being oil rich, is the Kurdish Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, in Fallujah, it's not over yet. Sources in Baghdad close to the resistance swear the mujahideen still control at least half of the city - the whole southern part plus the alleyways. The Americans, desperate to impose some measure of control, have launched another massive offensive in the south of Baghdad, in the so-called “triangle of death”, while at the same time they cannot even control the treacherous highway sector running from Baghdad airport straight to the Green Zone.

Thousands of Fallujah refugee families are living in dire conditions in makeshift shelters around the city. Those not lucky enough to have relatives in Baghdad are camping in places like the University of Baghdad campus. Nobody has received any aid from Allawi's government and its Ministry of Health – no medicine, no doctors, although there has been a rhetorical promise. Baghdad is filled with refugees telling horror stories of fear under the relentless American bombing, of being sprayed with what they claim was poisonous gas, of snipers killing women and children or anyone trying to cross the Euphrates river, of no water, no electricity and no food. No Sunni in his right mind believes in the ”reconstruction” of Fallujah: they point to the example of Sadr City - bombed in October and still in ruins. The Iraqi Red Crescent says all their relief teams are still blocked from entering Fallujah, while the Americans say the refugees will have to wait at least two more weeks before they can go back to their city in ruins.

This catalogue of woes, in the minds of Sunni Iraqis, means that Iraq has been turned by the Americans into a failed state, with Allawi's “government” a fiction with no authority whatsoever, except his recourse to American firepower.

The Sharm-el-Sheikh show Not a single Arab government condemned the Fallujah massacre. This week's international conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt in fact normalized the Fallujah massacre and legitimized the election calendar.

Arab League secretary general Amir Mussa called for “a ceasefire in Fallujah and other hot spots”. Nobody paid attention. A delegation of the Iraqi opposition – including Muzhar al-Duleimi, the head of the non-government organization League of Defending Iraqis' Rights, and Qassim Abdel Sattar, a member of Fallujah's council – circulated a statement before the conference demanding that the elections be postponed until the country was relatively secure. Once again, nobody paid attention - except for the Egyptians and the Jordanians. So far, 47 Sunni, Shi'ite, Turkoman and Christian parties have declared they will boycott the elections. There are 156 registered Iraqi political parties.

The interior ministers of Iraq's neighbors meet in Tehran next week. They meet again in early January in Amman to review the situation prior to the elections. Sharm-el-Sheikh made sure there's no timetable for the end of the occupation - only a vague reference to UN Security Council Resolution 1546, which states that the mandate of the occupying forces runs out “upon completion of the political process” when an elected government hopefully will take power by the end of 2005.

The players Assuming there will be elections on January 30 – incidentally the first day of the annual hajjthat takes millions of Muslims to Saudi Arabia - this is how the main players stand at the moment.

Iyad Allawi , the US-appointed Iraqi prime minister (without a parliament), leader of the Iraqi National Accord, widely known in Baghdad as “Saddam without a moustache” and now as “the butcher of Fallujah”, comes from a wealthy Shi'ite merchant family. A former Ba'ath Party member and former US Central Intelligence Agency asset, he has inexorably alienated the Sunnis from the political calendar - while contributing to massive popular support for the resistance. Our sources confirm there's graffiti all over the Sunni triangle spelling, in Arabic, “Death to Allawi and his puppet government”. His credibility in Iraq is low. But as he is America's man, he won't go quietly.

Ahmad Chalabi , Allawi's distant cousin, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), convicted fraudster in Jordan, the Pentagon man and privileged - then disgraced – American source of “intelligence”, is trying hard to stage a comeback. His credibility may be lower than his cousin's, but Chalabi comes from Shi'ite old money and still knows how to oil his connections. He is working to forge an alliance with Shi'ite religious parties and may bribe his way to a key post – maybe even a ministry.

Ghazi al-Yawar , currently the Iraqi president - a ceremonial, ineffective post - still is not affiliated to any party. But he's a very influential Sunni tribal leader in Mosul, also a civil engineer and businessman, educated in the US. He has very good ties with Washington - which explains his post as president. But he was very forceful in condemning the Fallujah massacre - and Sunnis noticed it. He could well become one of the leaders of the moderate Sunni minority in the next government.

Masoud Barzani, a Sunni and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was a former peshmerga – and for many Sunni Arabs that is unforgivable. He still maintains a peshmerga militia of at least 15,000. Barzani is the Kurdish counter to Jalal Talabani. He was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council - also thanks to his Washington connections – and one of his aides is now a vice president. Talabani, also a Sunni, is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and a law graduate from Baghdad University. His party is a splinter from the KDP. He was a huge lobbyist for the invasion and occupation. He was also a member of the governing council, also keeping his own peshmerga militia. Both Barzani and Talabani will have some say depending on what kind of political alliances they will be able to forge. But the fact is Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites alike view the Kurds as coming from another planet.

Muqtada al-Sadr cleverly swayed his lumpen proletariat-based movement from angry opposition to the occupation to political participation. The young Shi'ite cleric may not have the requisite religious credentials, but that doesn't matter when your father was the revered Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, assassinated by Saddam Hussein's secret police. The urban, angry, young, unemployed Shi'ites will vote massively for his senior cadres. Muqtada himself will not contest a seat. At the moment he is negotiating his participation in the united Shi'ite party list forcefully pushed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the second-largest Shi'ite political party. The SCIRI, basically exiled in Iran, was a powerful opposition voice against Saddam. Abdul Aziz's brother was the widely-respected Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al-Hakim, killed in a car bomb in Najaf in August 2003: the ayatollah might have become the leader of a new Iraq. The SCIRI is extremely organized. It had its own militia, the Badr Brigades, which are now a part of the Iraqi security forces - thus targets to the Sunni resistance. The big problem is that the SCIRI flourished in exile in Iran for too long – which for many Sunni Arabs means their members are Iranian agents. In the next government, the moderate Shi'ite Dawa party will certainly be more powerful than the SCIRI.

The strongest candidate to be the new Iraqi prime minister is undoubtedly Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the head of the Dawa party, which was the key opposition party to Saddam. He is from Karbala and studied medicine in Mosul. Dawa is very strong in southern Iraq and may now be the largest political party in the country. It will be the key party in the Shi'ite united list pushed by Sistani. Al-Jaafari was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council set up by the Americans. Currently a vice president, al-Jaafari is arguably the most popular politician in Iraq at the moment.

Assuming in January al-Jaafari is elected the new prime minister in a Shi'ite government controlled by the Dawa and SCIRI parties, at least three nagging questions will persist. Will the elections prevent or incite civil war? Which city will the US bomb in February? And will the occupation be over by December 2005?

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