Resistance Reveals “Post-US Plan”

Baghdad residents dismiss the pledge to win control of Iraqi cities as mere bravado.

Resistance Reveals “Post-US Plan”

Baghdad residents dismiss the pledge to win control of Iraqi cities as mere bravado.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Several Iraqi guerrilla groups have issued a joint statement vowing to take control of Iraqi cities once the United States and their allies withdraw – the closest thing yet to a programme laid out by the anti-coalition resistance.

Baghdadis interviewed by IWPR, whether Sunni or Shia, tended to dismiss the statement as no more than a display of bravado – or more seriously, as a threat to their newfound political liberty.

However, in Fallujah, where it originated, the statement has been widely hailed as the manifesto for a legitimate resistance movement.

The statement, which appeared in early February, was signed by a dozen shadowy groups – including the Jaysh Muhammed (Muhammed's Army), Ansar al-Sunna (Followers of the Sunna [Faith]) and the Muqawama al-Iraqi al-Islamiya (Iraqi Islamic Resistance) – most of which have previously claimed responsibility for attacks against the US-led coalition.

The document was distributed in leaflet form in Fallujah and the nearby provincial capital of Ramadi.

In the statement the groups vowed to take over Iraqi cities after the coalition forces withdraw – apparently a reference to plans by the coalition to pull out of urban areas in favour of Iraqi police and other security forces.

US military spokesmen say they hope to end their presence in Baghdad by May, a move which the resistance statement portrayed as a "defeat".

"America is preparing to withdraw its forces from our country with its tail between its legs... pressured by rockets and explosive devices," said the statement.

The resistance groups said that they would take control in the cities and apply a three-day curfew. They would then begin to organise interim self-rule councils, allowing people to take part only if they had not collaborated with the coalition.

Most residents of Baghdad to whom IWPR spoke were also aware of the statement's content, having read it on the internet or heard about it via news broadcasts or neighbourhood gossip.

Many were dismissive of the document as a serious threat. "It is a fantasy, an attempt to frighten the occupation troops, Iraqi [party] militias, and the so-called Iraqi police," said Sheikh Laqeen al-Qaisi, imam of the predominantly Sunni al-Sadiq al-Amin mosque.

Although Sheikh al-Qaisi took the view that "Sunnis have permission, in terms of religious legitimacy, to resist infidels when they enter a Muslim country as occupiers", he doubted whether such resistance was good in practice. "The Iraqi street cannot bear this chaos," he told IWPR.

He said he thought it impossible to unite the various ideological trends within the Sunni community under a single manifesto, and unlikely that a Sunni resistance force would ever be able to take power in Iraq's Shia cities.

Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Dhahir Tahir al-Baldawi, meanwhile, expressed fear that the statement would contribute to the danger of "a civil war between extremist Sunnis and other currents, [as well as] to destroying the people's unity and delaying elections”.

But Baldawi said that tribal leaders like him would prevent the resistance from sparking such a war. "The sheikhs will not let them do it," he said. "I will not support anyone who aims to fight the forces which have realised for Iraqis the dream they have had for hundreds of years: a chance or freedom to express their opinions and religion, and to choose their candidates for elections; a new life for the oppressed."

Meanwhile, Shia residents of the capital interviewed by IWPR said the statement only hardened their opposition to the Sunni-based resistance.

Saleh Ahmed, a Shia and former political prisoner, went home to test his Kalashnikov rifle and to make sure his ammunition was in order when he heard about the statement.

Ahmed said he was ready to help the Coalition fight the "wolves who want to devour freedom... the newborn baby".

"It is now clear who is trying to transform [political] dialogue into terrorism – Sunni extremists from Falluja," said pharmacist Hussein Khalaf, a follower of Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

"If a decree is issued [by the Shia religious leadership] to resist them, I am ready to do so," he said.

Khalaf added that the statement "gives the Americans a pretext to stay in Iraq, when [many] Iraqis are calling for their withdrawal.... Right now, I support the American presence, to avoid chaos."

In Fallujah, however, the statement found a much more positive response. This conservative Sunni town has been the site of several anti-coalition demonstrations in which dozens of citizens have been killed, as well as numerous attacks on US forces.

Fallujah has also seen several attempts by insurgents to seize control of municipal buildings – the closest that any Iraqi town has come to the kind of takeover promised in the resistance statement.

In the most recent incident, masked gunmen stormed the town's police station on February 14, freeing prisoners held inside, and also attacked the headquarters of the coalition-trained civil defence force. At least 23 police and four attackers were killed in the fighting.

Most Fallujah resident interviewed by IWPR appeared to welcome the document as a statement of intent.

"It upholds the resistance, and makes [its goals] known to society. This gives other citizens a chance to participate in it and support it, and to realise that it is not terrorism, as the occupiers say it is," said Sheikh Mohammed Farouq al-Ani, imam of a local mosque.

Karim Mahmoud, who described himself merely as a "citizen" of the town, said that the appearance of the statement was a "logical development, such as the manifestos put out by the various jihad groups in Palestine, who are fighting for the liberation of their country".

Dhiya Rasan is a trainee journalist with IWPR in Baghdad.

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