America’s superhawks, also known as “neocons” (neo-conservatives), are ecstatic about the turn of events in Iraq, especially the lack of any effective resistance to the military takeover of Baghdad. Even mild resistance would have resulted in many American casualties if the example of other cities (Um al-Qasr, Basra, Nasiriyya, Najaf and Karbala) is anything to go by. The Ba’athist rulers had promised house-to-house and street-to-street fighting; in the end it did not happen. Why? Saddam Husain and his family have disappeared, or been allowed to escape under a secret deal, according to some reports, but the much-feared Stalingrad-type resistance did not occur. Nor did the much-touted Republican Guards put up a fight; in fact, they all vanished into thin air without trace, reinforcing speculation that their commander, general Maher Sufyan, had also struck a secret deal with the Americans: not to resist, in return for money and refuge. The fact that Maher Sufyan’s name was not on the list of people wanted by the Americans lends credence to such speculations.
Saddam was reportedly sighted on April 11 outside a mosque in the Aadhimya district of Baghdad two days after American forces entered the city and toppled his statue in the main square. He had apparently survived the bombing of a building, where he was holding a meeting with his top advisors, on April 7. During his Aadhimya appearance, Saddam is reported to have told his supporters that he was “betrayed” by those whom he had trusted. According to this version, general Sufyan and the head of the Saddam Fidayeen accepted American offers of money and safe haven, and dispersed the forces under their command without putting up a fight.
Even so, the whereabouts of Saddam, his family and his inner circle remain a mystery. Sami Sadoun, Iraq’s ambassador to Belgrade who was close to the Iraqi dictator, was reported by the Associated Press on April 18 as saying that the absence of resistance in Baghdad was proof that Saddam was dead. Another theory suggests that a deal was struck during US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Moscow on April 10. Saddam and his entourage were allowed to leave in return for not resisting the takeover of Baghdad. This theory states further that soon thereafter a plane took off from Takrit, Saddam’s home town, taking the Ba’athists into exile in Russia.
Whatever the truth behind these theories, they contribute little to our understanding of the situation except to confirm that the Iraqi army and the Republican Guards did not put up a fight to defend Baghdad, when they could have done so. What might be more helpful is to ask whether the Iraqi troops would have inflicted enough casualties on US troops to drive them out of Iraq. The Americans truly fear death; high casualties would have been a major setback. Even more important is the issue of ideology and cause for which people fight. Under Saddam Iraq was a Ba’athist state. Ba’athism, a crude mixture of socialism, nationalism and fascism, is alien to the values of Islam; it was imposed on Iraq in order to prevent the emergence of Islam in its naturally dominant role. In other Muslim countries, other strains of the virus called nationalism are imposed, all for the same purpose.
Although Muslims around the world are naturally aggrieved about the defeat and destruction of a Muslim society and the suffering inflicted on innocent people, it is important to make a distinction: it is not Islam that has been defeated in Iraq but Ba’athism, an ideology that has its philosophical roots in western thought. Before discussing this aspect further, let us consider the vandalism inflicted on Iraq, especially the pillage and destruction of its museums, libraries and valuable manuscripts, including copies of the Qur’an.
The American occupation forces had plenty of resources to secure the ministries of oil and the interior, but apparently not enough manpower to look after the museums and libraries. American academics and other professionals had warned the Pentagon and the US state department in advance that the priceless artifacts in Baghdad’s museums must be protected, yet they were vandalised; many artifacts that are (or were) thousands of years old have been either destroyed or stolen. There can be little doubt that the stolen pieces will soon adorn museums in the west, especially in Britain. The theft of these artifacts was probably a carefully coordinated plan by the American and British occupiers.
Even some mosques and the resting-place of Imam Abu-Hanifa were not spared. The door to the catafalque of Imam Abu-Hanifa’s tomb was blown up by the Americans with a shoulder-held rocket on the flimsy pretext that Saddam or his associates might be hiding there. Such behaviour has increased the resentment of a people who were already seething with anger because of American heavy-handedness.
The occupiers, however, are not finding it at all easy to control the country. While an American-sponsored meeting was taking place in a huge tent at Ur on April 15 under the watchful gaze of Zalmay Khalilzad (an Afghan-born American troublemaker), thousands of people were demonstrating in nearby Nasiriyya, demanding that the US occupation end. On April 18 another enormous rally was held in Baghdad, attended by both Sunnis and Shi’ahs, calling upon the US to get out of Iraq immediately. A huge banner read: “No Bush, No Saddam, Yes, Yes, to Islam.” It was a telling sign of the way in which Iraqi politics has been developing since Saddam’s overthrow. Similarly, the gathering on April 23 in Karbala to mark the anniversary of the fortieth day of Imam Husain’s martyrdom, called at the behest of Ayatullah Seyyed Baqir al-Hakim, has electrified the Shi’ah population. These are important developments that may well have far-reaching consequences for the future political map of Iraq.
Many commentators have pointed out the complex nature of Iraqi society. Parallels have also been drawn with the British occupation in the early twenties, and how it was resisted. Similar resistance is already beginning to appear against the Anglo-American forces. Even more important are parallels with the Mongol invasion and occupation of Baghdad in 1258CE, when Mustassim, the last khalifah of Banu-Abbas, was defeated and executed by Halagu Khan. Let us be clear: Saddam is no Mustassim; yet the Americans are every bit as cruel as the Mongol hordes who sacked the library of Baghdad, which was the greatest treasure of human knowledge and civilization at that time.
Then as now, after Baghdad, the invaders turned their attention to Damascus. Although Damascus was easily occupied, the Muslims did not give up. Two events took place in quick succession that turned the tide of history. First the Muslims, led by the Mamelukes in Egypt, were able to inflict a resounding defeat on the Mongols at the battle of Ain Jalut (near present-day Nablus) on September 3, 1260, and then within a couple of years Halagu’s brother had embraced; he then went on to conquer the Duchy of Moscovy. Muslims ruled Russia’s frozen spaces for more than 200 years, a remarkable feat that remains unmatched by anyone else. They lost the Duchy of Moscovy but continued to rule Kazan until 1556, when they lost it to Ivan the Terrible.
It is important to note that while Muslims suffered reverses in the frozen heartland of Russia, they had already established their rule in India under the Mughals in 1526. True, the Mughals were not particularly interested in propagating Islam or consolidating its power; they were more inclined to enjoy life. Mughal rule in India lasted until 1707 but did little to advance the cause of Islam, despite valiant attempts by Aurangzeb, the last effective Mughal ruler. Still, as Dr Muhammad Iqbal pointed out, “those who have made a faith-commitment to Allah live in this world like the sun; when they go down here, they rise up there, and when they go down there, they re-emerge here.” Five hundred years ago the Muslims lived up to this description; today we are far removed from it because we have largely abandoned our faith-commitment. The offer is still open to those who are willing to make the commitment, as indeed it always will be.
Iraq today can be characterised as more akin to Lebanon after the zionist onslaught in June 1982 than to Afghanistan after the expulsion of the Taliban in November 2001. In 1982 the Shi’ah community of South Lebanon had welcomed the Israelis with rice; less than 15 months later they were throwing grenades at them, finally driving them out in May 2000. The Iraqis have already started demanding the withdrawal of American troops; they should back this up with effective action.
First, there is nothing to hold the ulama back from taking over various cities, declaring them as being under their direct control. The ulama in Iraq, especially Ayatullah Baqir al-Hakim, are greatly respected by the population. He should ensure that the Sunni ulama are brought on board. To their great credit, the Shi’ahs have not indulged in an orgy of revenge-killings after the fall of Saddam. They must build on this and get all the Iraqi groups together, including the Kurds, who have felt alienated for far too long. In the chaos that grips Iraq today, the ulama can mobilise their supporters to provide relief to the people, help restore water and electricity supplies, as well as law and order, but under their own command, and not to help the Americans to consolidate their grip on the country. They should follow the example of the Hizbullah in Lebanon, who won the trust and admiration of everyone, including the Christian community with whom the Muslims had been fighting for so long.
If the ulama in Iraq do their work properly, there is no reason why they cannot turn the tide of humiliation. True, the Americans did not overthrow Saddam’s regime in order to hand Iraq over to the true leaders of the people. The US has other designs for Iraq, as well as the rest of the region; they plan to stay for the long haul to control the oil, to pillage the country while pretending to rebuild it, and to occupy the Middle East so that the zionists can continue to hold and control Palestine with impunity. The Americans must be made to feel unwelcome, unwanted and completely out of place in Iraq. This will only be possible if the ulama fulfil their proper role, and do not go about begging the Americans to do everything for them.
It will not be easy, but then nobody ever said that the Islamic movement will find establishing an Islamic state or polity plain sailing. Now the ulama and the Muslims of Iraq face an even greater challenge, in the form of alien occupiers whose wicked intentions are becoming abundantly clear.