I remember an old Hollywood movie called "El Sid". It was based on a legend from the days when the Christians were fighting to expel the Moslems from Spain in the middle ages. You have all probably heard of the splendid era in Spain that lasted for several centuries, when an Islamic Umayyad western empire founded by Abd-ar-Rahman I (later titled Al-Dakhel) ;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Andalus.
The legend goes like this: One of the leaders of the Christian armies was a great worrier. The Muslims or “moors “or “Saracens” as they are often referred to by ancient writers had a great respect and fear of this man. And as a mark of their awe towards this personage they nicknamed him El Sid, which means in Arabic: the master or the chief. Anyway this fighter was one day injured and died later without the Moslems knowing about it. In order not to lose the psychological advantage of his presence in battle and the fear he inspired in the enemy camp, the Christians hid the fact of his death, dressed the corpse in battle garb, mounted it on its horse and propped it up and had it accompany them in battle producing the desired effect and winning the battle. A similar tale is told in our religious lore about King Solomon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Solomon , who is considered a prophet by the Muslims. He was according to Muslim tradition, master of all creatures, jinn’s and all manner of land, sea and air afreets, not to mention all animals. All feared and obeyed him and he could speak to them all and order them to do whatever he desired. So the legend goes that when he died he remained standing leaning on his walking stick for more than a whole year. All that time all the creatures at his command went about fearing him and behaving themselves, believing that he was alive. Well, you may wonder why on earth I am telling you all these tales! You will see what I am driving at shortly, if you can bear with me a little longer.
Well, the continuing drama of the Iraqi situation beats any soap opera or Hollywood fiction thriller with hands down, provided of course, that one keeps a safe distance; which luckily is the case for me right now. Being inside there, I doubt that entertainment would be the predominant sentiment for anyone. Hardly a day goes by without some exciting new development. Now we have entered the eighth year A.L. (After Liberation; one day Iraqi history may be dated thus); so how does the scene look like and what are the prospects for the near and distant futures? I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about it.
When considering the situation in Iraq, one must always keep in mind the developments of the past seven years and even the years preceding the fall of Saddam. After the 1st real election of 2005, the insurrection really escalated and we are all guilty of understating and under- reporting the true gravity of the situation. A terrible civil war was raging but nobody wanted to admit that openly. The horrors of that war are too painful to recall. I was personally witness of incidents that will continue to haunt me to the end of my days. The insurgency was essentially a sectarian uprising of the Sunnis against what they saw as Shiite takeover of power as a result of the American operation. Several militias were formed in the Sunni camp including Baathists and other groups. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates found an ideal and fertile ground to establish themselves with some support from the population of the Sunni provinces, or at least tolerance and indifference initially, largely due to sectarian passion and distaste for the new order that was coming into being. Thousands of foreigners were recruited and sent to Iraq through extremely porous borders, not to mention those already imported by Saddam just before his downfall, and Al-Zarqawi and other Al-Qaeda leaders rightly considered Iraq as the main front in the fight against their western and local enemies; and it was indeed the most sizable battle that they ever waged. The testament of Zarqawi remains to this day the best document summing up the position of these groups and their analysis of the Iraqi scene and their strategy at that epoch. On the other hand the anarchist poor Shiites were suddenly liberated from all fetters and free to indulge in an orgy of violence and vandalism under the banner of the so called Sadrist Current. The serious battles of Falluja, followed by the Sadrist rebellion and the siege of Najaf, are still fresh in memory during the 1st post-Bremer government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. These were considerable battles in which the American forces played the primary role. After the elections of 2005, there were signs that the populations in Sunni areas primarily in the main stronghold of Al-Anbar were experiencing the harsh rule of Al-Qaeda, who established an intolerable rule of terror, murder and ridiculous oppression on the people. This situation prevailed in all Sunni controlled areas, in the provinces as well as in the Capital, Baghdad. Most importantly the Jihadists started to wage war against the traditional tribal sheiks and dignitaries, seeing in the traditional structures and loyalties a threat to their hegemony and control. Then the confrontation between the tribes of Al-Anbar started and developed into full scale war that ended in the expulsion of Al-Qaeda from their main stronghold in Al-Anbar. I was one of the first to realise the importance of this development and those who followed my blog at that time will remember my enthusiasm for this “Sahwa (awakening)” movement, and my urgent recommendation to support and take advantage of it; an advice which seems to have been heeded with far reaching results.
After the troubles in Al-Anbar, Al-Qaeda cadres were forced to relocate elsewhere in the Sunni areas, such as Diala province where Al-Zarqawi was discovered and killed by American bombing, as I am sure you all remember. However the killing of Al-Zarqawi did not end the rebellion and open sectarian war was declared the day the Al-Askaria shrine was exploded in 2006. I don’t think that the world really realised the full extent and the horror of that sectarian war. The country was divided into strictly segregated cantons where on both sides all those of the wrong sect were expelled from their homes and some murdered. People were murdered for no other crime than having the wrong name in the wrong place. Baghdad itself was divided into sectarian zones where anybody risked execution and torture if he ventured into the wrong neighbourhood. A childhood friend of my boys who lived few houses away from ours had been just married; he was a Sunni with a kind of neutral name. He was caught by a Sunni militia few hundred meters from my own house. The militia could not ascertain whether he was Shiite or Sunni, so they took his cell phone and phoned his wife asking her about it. The poor girl thought that he was caught by a Shiite Militia, and she told them that he was Shiite; he was promptly executed. To this day she cannot forgive herself and has become a psychiatric case. In January 2007, my own oldest cousin was shot by American soldiers mistaking him for a terrorist. He was buried ceremoniously by an Al-Qaeda crowd as a martyr. His son, a Sunni, however, was a police officer; he made the fatal mistake of showing his identity card in the cemetery. A month later he was pulled from his car in front of his wife and children, taken away and dumped two days later near his house with his body terribly mutilated by torture. He was murdered by the very same people who attended his fathers’ funeral. These were just couple of incidents that I personally witnessed amongst hundreds if not thousands of others. The years 2006, 2007 were the worst. Baghdad was a city of death and many parts of the city were like ghost towns where people feared to venture out of their front doors even for the most basic needs. Scores of corpses were found every morning littering the pavements and side streets and were collected and taken away by pickup trucks. These trucks laden with corpses piled on top of each other were a familiar sight in Baghdad. It was horror beyond imagination. The tragedies that took place are too painful to recall, some of which I witnessed personally. Baghdad had nearly fallen under the very nose of the American forces and the highly inefficient Iraqi security forces that they were trying to form.
Then came the counterattack. The credit must be shared between the troop surge decided by President Bush under the wise leadership of General Petraeus, the establishment of a unified Baghdad command by Al-Maliki’s government and the valiant efforts of the Anbar tribes and the Sahwa movement. The Iraqi security forces began to be developed in good earnest. The Maliki Government deserve to be credited for its determined and largely successful campaigns against Militias in the South primarily and the rather less successful ones in Mosul and Diyala. Towards the end of 2008 and in 2009 the insurgent tide had been more or less reversed. The war is not over and there is still much to be done, to be sure; but at least overt Militia control of entire provinces and neighbourhoods has ended and they were forced underground again. People can go about their business and shops are open; and even some neighbourhoods are becoming mixed again. In the shiaa areas calm has more or less been restored. Sectarian killings have almost stopped. However the scars of battle and the debris of destruction can still be seen all over the place, and underneath the surface animosities and sectarian hatred are still smouldering which is not surprising considering the atrocities inflicted by parties against each other. But the Iraqis are not a stupid people and everybody has realised that the violence did not serve anybody and that all sides stand to lose if it continues.
To be continued.