Lost and Found
Back in 1932 – Iraq was carved by the colonial powers out of an Ottoman province. (Before the carving, Kuwait was part of the province). The British-installed rulers of Iraq were soon assassinated. Several governments changed hands until the Bath Party came to power. By 1979 Saddam Hussein had taken over. (He was in any case running the state from behind the scenes). He was opposed by some in the party. So a purge followed. Many were executed.
It were the Arab Sunnis who were primarily opposed to the Bathist ideology, and showed resistance. As a result, it is Sunnis who suffered most for the first 10-15 years of Bathist rule. Many of their leading scholars lost their lives, including Sheikh `Abdul `Aziz Badri, the most distinguished scholar of Iraq. Iraqi young men with religious leanings would disappear from the universities.
For the Shi`ah of Iraq, it was sunshine. In the absence of the Sunnis, they joined the ruling Bath Party in tens of thousands. As a result, although the Shi`ah were 30% of the population, they were 60% in the Bath Party. The Supreme Command of the Party had on its rolls 150,000 active members. Out of them the Shi`ah were close to 95,000. The central command had not one member from the large Anbar province, home to the majority of Sunnis.
This led to a disproportionate representation in the government, ministries, offices, media, and even the army. Shi`as dominated everywhere. To Saddam it did not mean anything. He did not know a difference between Shi`ah and Sunni. He was secular, determined, stern in rules, ruthless, and did not accept any opposition to his policies which were given shape by the top command of a few and which included Christian, Shi`ah, Sunni, and other secular elements. He was a man of stern principles and did not spare anyone who opposed the government. Those who did, either died or escaped to foreign countries. His own two cousins (who were also his sons in law), fled the country in protest of his rule. When they returned, they were duly executed. It is alleged that it was Saddam who had ordered the elimination of another of his cousins (and brother of his wife), chief of the Army, Adnan Khayrallah. The reason was that Khayrallah was extremely popular in the army, even among the Shi`ah, because he was soft on soldiers who deserted the army.
The developments were fast during his rule. Education, research, industry and defense received priority. In a short time Iraq boasted of the best cadre of doctors, engineers, scientists, and technical experts of all class in the Middle-east.
Coincidentally, the year in which Saddam Hussein became the President in Iraq, was the year in which Iranian revolution took place brining Khomeini to power. The latter began to invite Muslims of the world to attempt similar revolutions (Thawrah Islamiyyah) and remove the corrupt governments installed by Western powers. Khomeini had lived in Iraq (Najaf) when exiled by the Shah of Iran in 1964. He lived there until 1978 when he moved to Paris, just one year before the Shah’s rule was dismantled. It was at Najaf that Khomeini had worked out his ideas about “Rule of the Jurist” (Wilaayat-e-Faqeeh). It was from here that he had recruited and trained 12,000 followers who were ready to do his bidding. Obviously, during these 14 years he would have learnt a lot about the Shi`ah in Iraq, could have imbibed them with the revolutionary spirit, and, laid out plans for Iraq, once things were in control in Iran.
Predictably, once the de-facto ruler of Iran, when Khomeini called for revolutions in every country, he addressed the Iraqi Shi`ah first. The call stirred the so far dormant community there. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, a distinguished and powerful religious figure (father-in-law of the present-day Moqtada al-Sadr), responded to the call and began airing similar views as Khomeini’s. He is said to have sent a fax to Khomeini saying, “We are ready.” When questioned by the government officials, he is said to have acknowledged that the time for “thawrah” had arrived. It was becoming obvious that Iraq was heading for trouble. Muhammad Baqir also issued a fatwa declaring any participation in the Bath Party as Islamically unlawful. Dominated by the Shi`ah, their mass exodus would have led to the collapse of the ruling Party, and in consequence, collapse of Iraq for want of another political party with deep roots in the masses. Muhammad Baqir was arrested and executed. But the Shi`ah remained confident that given the Iranian help, revival of the Safawid kingdom was not a far-fetched dream.
The developments led to the war with Iran, which both the nations accused the other o starting. But both were more than ready to lock horns. It resulted in the loss of millions of souls, as both used deadly weapons – including chemical weapons freely supplied by the West, and Iraq financed by the Arab world. It came to a halt when both were exhausted and agreed to their pre-war borders.
It was during one of those battles that Halabjah – a Kurdish town, near Iranian border – fell to the Iranians given support by the Kurd militia. However, one day the Iranians and the Kurd militia suddenly withdrew from the town. Two hours later, the town of 5,000 was struck with chemical bombs killing all its inhabitants. Many have always suspected that Iran was responsible for the bombing. Carlton Meyer wrote:
“And the story gets murkier: immediately after the battle the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas.
The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds’ bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent — that is, a cyanide-based gas — which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time. (Source: G2mil Quarterly, http://www.uruknet.info/?colonna=m&p=366).”
Iraqi woes were not to come to an end. Those who had financed the war now began demanding their money back. Iraqi treasury was empty. Its view-point was: “We sacrificed our sons to prevent the spread of Iranian revolution. Why demand the money now?” Further, was it not originally a grant? It is said that one of the Arab countries sold out its part to a third party, and that third party began to pressurize Iraq for payments. Failure of all talks, and tacit approval by the USA, led Saddam to the foolish act of invading Kuwait. (Another reason stated was that Iraqi oil was being sucked stealthily, although Kuwait said that it had extracted merely 25,000 barrels).
Western powers were prowling around like wolves waiting for the nation to fall into this trap. Iraq had to ultimately withdraw from Kuwait. But it was stabbed at the back. Tens of thousands of soldiers that were returning and were within the Iraqi territory, were hit by Western bombers from the rear. The road is now remembered as the Death Trail. This was a war crime of huge proportions, and provided a good example of Western chivalry. But demonstrations of Western chivalry and the civilization it prides in, was not to end there. From then on Iraq was bombed twice a week for 13 years, and had sanctions slammed on it. The infrastructure was targeted. Bombers took off from neighboring countries, and all that had been built in past 20 years was systematically raised to the ground. Perhaps no nation in history has been subject to so much bombing as Iraq. The human casualty is unknown. But it is widely known that 500,000 children died because of the embargo alone.
On the other hand, the Kurdish separation parties continued waging their own war of independence: a movement that had started a century or more earlier. They were fighting on several fronts: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. (A total population of Kurds, anything around 30 million is spread over Iraq: 5 million; Iran 6 million; Turkey 13 million; Syria 1to1.5 million; and Europe: 1 million). The Iraqi Kurds siding with Iran during the Iraq-Iran war proved to be costly. Military action was launched against the separatists by Iraq and they suffered heavy losses. The figures given out by the Kurdish parties are, of course not trustworthy, and are far from realistic. (The media was reporting thousands of Kurds in prisons until Baghdad fell. After the fall of Baghdad, the number was pushed up to 182,000 killed!) Nonetheless, their efforts yielded political results. They won full autonomy in northern Iraq which lasts to this day (They are the largest in Turkey, but no autonomy has been granted to them there). Nonetheless, their struggle for full freedom and formation of a broader Kurdistan sliced out of Iranian, Turkish and Syrian territories, continues down to this day. However, being altogether an ethnic movement, and without substantial support by the saner elements among the Kurds themselves, most of whom are Sunnis, it enjoys little outside support. Even the USA, which participated in granting them autonomy in Iraq, is cool when it comes to the question of full freedom. (It was done in Iraq to internally weaken the country by constantly reminding them of their ethnic identities).
On the other side, the disasters that Iraq experienced led many politicians, revolutionists, rebels, and secularist elements to voluntarily go into exile seeking refuge in the West. There their leadership fell into the hands of the Shi`ah and Kurds; but the Shi`ah dominated. If one looks at the photographs of Iraqi opposition leaders holding conferences in the USA, previous to American invasion, one can easily count the number of black turbaned figures in them.
But the struggle within Iraq was also continued. With the withdrawal from Kuwait, the Shi`ah once again began to get active. Saddam was the biggest hurdle. There was an attempt on his life. It was organized by the Shi`ah Da`wah party. Present Prime Minister Maliki, and the previous Prime Minister Ibrahim Ja`feri, were both members of the party. After the plot failed, they escaped (to reappear with the Americans in 2003). But the collaborators were arrested behind them. After investigations and trials, which lasted three years, the assassination attempt was proven against 148 of the Dujayli village, and they were executed. It should be obvious that they would have known the consequences of the assassination attempt. Saddam had once said, “If my right hand opposes this government, I will cut it off.”
If the forced ceasefire with Iraq was “a cup of poison” that, in his own words, Khomeini had drunk, the catastrophic defeat of all of Iraq’s intents and purposes, was no less so for Saddam. The events led him to a new awakening. Weeks, months and now years, bombs were being slammed into Iraq on false pretext. (Committees searching for mass destructive weapons had all along given negative reports. It is apparent that the West wished to be absolutely sure that Iraqis did not have any weapons of mass destruction, before invading it).
There was no let up in the bombing. Due to the destruction of the infrastructure, women began to wash their utensils in Euphrates, an egg cost 10 dollars, hospitals had no medicine for the sick, and some Iraqis were forced to pick food remnants from dust bins. Thousands upon thousands died as a result of chain reactions. But the world community looked the other way.
These happenings brought totally new realizations to Saddam. All along, he had been an ally of the West. They had given him all support for destroying the Iraqi communists – the reason why Russia would not support Iraq during its difficult hours. He was also supplied with weapons of mass destruction to quash Iranian ambitions. But now he could clearly perceive its treacherous nature. His deity had fallen, and he began to consider alternatives. He decided to take a new path. He is said to have asked (during a Party meeting), “We have two paths before us: Harakah Eemaaniyyah or Harakah `Ilmaaniyyha” (Harakah `Ilmaaniyyah: Secular Movement).” Then he is said to have concluded, “I think we should take the Harakah Eemaniyyah” path. Although reported abroad among knowledgeable circles (albeit much later), if it did not strike any note, it was because Saddam had been projected by the media as a quixotic person who could not be treated seriously for anything he said.
But Saddam was. While he worked out an extensive and elaborate method of distributing food, to reach every Iraqi, no matter where he lived, he began to implement new policies following his new resolutions. One of the most important was change in educational curriculum. He got Islamic subjects introduced into the school syllabi. It is said that the total hours allotted for Islamic studies – Qur’an, Suunah and related subjects – were more than in any other Gulf country. (This answers the question as to why the first thing the Americans did in Iraq was to bring printed school textbooks from USA).
Upon the suggestions of Dr. `Abdul Lateef Humayyim who advised him to set up institutions for the propagation of the Prophetic Sunnah, he immediately ordered the establishment of an institute called “Markaz al-Imam al-Bukhari” for study and dissemination of Hadith. A “Kulliyyatu al-Ma`arif” was opened in Ramadi for religious studies. Dr. Abdul Razzaq Sa`di was the rector. Another college named “Jaami`atu Saddam” was opened for religious studies. Two other colleges were opened that offered courses in Usul al-Din. (Such books were included in the syllabus of these institutes as Fiqh al-Sunnah by Sayyid Sabiq and “Minhaaj al-Muslim” by Abu Bakr al-Jazaa’iri). A governmental decree declared cursing of the Companions a punishable act. He ordered the closure of “Kulliyyata Fiqh” which taught Shi`ah theology. Another important development was that the degrees accorded by Islamic institutes were declared equivalent to a graduate degree in any other secular discipline, opening the doors for employment of religious degree holders. These steps of course added fuel to fire and greatly angered the Shi`ah.
In addition, when Dr. `Abdul Lateef Humayyim suggested opening Islamic banks to Islamize the economy, he immediately ordered the setting up of one. The Iraqi TV was ordered to air Islamic information at prime time. While orders were issued that those who build mosques were exempt to income taxes, the state began to encourage “halaqas” in mosques. In some mosques the attendance was high as 300 participants of the halaqas. “Summer Islamic Training” camps also ordered held for the youth.
Fallujah witnessed greater Islamic revival. All wine shops there were ordered closed on the advice of Sheikh Ahmad al-Qubaysi. Subsequently, nine theaters in Fallujah were closed down by a governmental decree. These developments led a French governmental person to issue the statement after his visit of Iraq that Fallujah was developing into a hub of terrorism.
At the political level, the State was now less severe on those – either Sunni or Shi`ah – who had opposed Bathist rule earlier. Abu Ghurayb prison population plummeted to hundreds during the last five years of his rule. (The Arab media said that Saddam was emptying the prisons for reasons of appeasement, and playing upon religious sentiments by releasing them in “Laylatu Baraa’ah – 15th of Sha`ban. But, when theft increased thereafter, the same media once again blamed Saddam for releasing the criminals from the jails! Either way Saddam was not to get any credit).
Wearing of scarf was encouraged so that when a “Palestine Brigade” consisting of women volunteers was created, wearing of scarf was made compulsory. These developments angered the liberalized women of Iraq so that, when a member of the Socialist Party of Iraq – a lady called Naadiyyah – appeared on the Al-Jazeerah TV channel, speaking on the future prospects of Iraqi women, she complained that one of the repressive measures against liberalization of women was that it was becoming difficult for an Iraqi woman to find a job in Iraq if she was not wearing a scarf.
A few other steps were taken for the Islamization of Iraq. In the years 1994-5, he introduced Islamic punishments (hudud), starting with theft. A governmental decree made it unlawful to deal with any foreign company that also dealt with Israel. Another decree declared that any member of the Bath Party who was involved in gambling would lose Party membership. Earlier, instructions were issued that Bath Party members were required to attend five-time daily Prayers in mosques so as to be examples for the common people. Another ordinance declared prostitution and gambling unlawful, and, subsequently, around 48 prostitutes were arrested and executed. Similarly, all the male and female magicians of the city of Hit were rounded up. But their fate is not known.
He cleared his own house, and began to insist on his children and others of the family to follow Islamic principles of life. He himself began to pray five times. A well-known American journalist reported that nothing had interrupted “his three-hour session with Saddam Hussein,” except the Prayers. Arab foreign dignitaries visiting him were embarrassed when he would interrupt the meetings and say, “Come on, let us Pray.” He began to give a portion of his time to Qur’anic recitation. Once he said that he felt “the Qur’an flowing through my veins,” which was of course well scoffed at by the Arab media. During his captivity, he confessed to a lawyer that he had recited the Qur’an 8 times during the last Ramadan.
Although outside Shuyukh (e.g., Sheikh Sifr al-Hawali, or `Aayedh al-Qarni – author of “Don’t be Sad”) had spoken to the outside world about the Islamic revival in Iraq, the credibility was so low that a couple of years after the American invasion, when a Gulf intellectual met with a couple of Iraqis in the Haram, and asked them whether the “Harakah Eemaaniyyah” story, the change in policies, and the Islamic impact on Iraqi Arab Sunnis was true, he was told that it was all true. And, he was, in his own words, “shocked to learn from them that oil was not all the story behind the invasion. It was primarily Islam.
The lynching of Saddam Hussein, as it is being referred to by common accord, points to several bitter truths. Saddam’s composure in the face of sure death, his dignity, his thanking and shaking hands with the American guards, posted to assure that he will not escape death at their hands, his answers to the taunts of his executioners, his words, “Down with the Americans, Zionists and Persians” and, “Palestine is Arab,” when his crimes were read out minutes before he was to be hanged, his words of reassurance to his legal representative in the hangman’s room, “Don’t be afraid,” his derisive smile when the name of an insignificant man was chanted by the jackals, his instructions that the copy of the Qur’an he was holding be given to his half brother, his keenness to identify his executioner, his refusal to put on a hood, and his recitation of the Shahadah, “I testify that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad ..” all these details tell us, in no uncertain terms that this was a man of muru’ah, and that, he took it with him.
The man’s true personality will remain controversial, not because it was hidden or doubtful, but because it was made controversial by the Western media. He knew a lot about them, he could open his mouth any time, so he had to be kept in solitary confinement, denied newspapers, books, TV and radio, to use his time out when allowed into the courtyard, feeding the birds out of the crumbs he saved from his food, and watering the plants, reminding his guards, “my background is farming”). He could say things that would topple the apple card of lies that the West has been pushing forward, and, therefore, had to be secretly done away with, even if it meant lynching him. He was charged with crimes against humanity. It was alleged that he killed 182,000 Kurds. But he was first tried for what should have been to them a minor crime: execution of the Dujailis, condemned to die, and lynched in a hurry (despite the fact that Tariq `Aziz the former deputy Prime Minister addressed a press conference to say that he had important evidences and was ready to testify. He was ignored). It was not in Western interest that he should be tried for his so-called “crimes against humanity” meaning the alleged death of 182,000 Kurds. This is because, if the case had opened in the court, many truths would have been brought to light. Saddam Hussein was dangerous in his solitary cell also.
In the words of a journalist: Saddam knew how his life would end. But, he also realized that his legacy would be part of the equation that will resurrect Iraq. He never sold out, even at the end, when he was offered many chances to be freed. At one point he was told that if he read out a prepared statement on the TV, he could win his freedom. But he knew that if he sold out, he would have sold out Iraq. The new Iraq that will eventually come into being will have the same tenacity and pride that Saddam Hussein exhibited. The current resistance still has much housecleaning to perform, but the results are inevitable
The lynching of Saddam Hussein, as it is being referred to by common accord, points to several bitter truths. But the most saddening is the disappearance of muru’ah from the Muslim ruling classes. Saddam’s composure in the face of sure death, his dignity, his thanking and shaking hands with the American guards, posted to assure that he will not escape death at their hands, his answers to the taunts, his words, “Down with the Americans, Zionists and Persians” and, “Palestine is Arab,” when his crimes were read out minutes before he was to be hanged, his words to his lawyer, “Don’t be afraid,” his derisive smile when the name of an insignificant man was chanted, his instructions that the copy of the Qur’an he was holding be given to his half brother, his keenness to identify his executioner, his refusal to put on a hood, and his recitation of the Shahadah, “I testify that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad ..” – are details
The Shi`a are at a historical juncture. It is being thought that the Iranians, still angry with `Umar during whose time Persia was subdued, are pursuing with efforts to revive the Safawid empire of the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries when the Shi`ite rule extended over Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Mesopotamia (what is now Central Iraq), and parts of Middle-east including Baghdad. (When the Safawids ruled Baghad for a few decades they made stables of the massive Abu Haneefah Mosque, and of Abdul Qadir Jeelani’s mosque and tomb. It was during the Safawid rule that the Sunni Iran was converted to Shi`ah Iran. This was acknowledged by a member of the delegate sent to Britain to participate in an Islamic conference discussing the Iranian Revolution).
They are in a minority in Iraq. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Planning in 2004, for distribution of food cards, there were in Iraq: 43% Sunni Arabs, 20% Kurd Arabs (of whom 2/3rd are Sunni), about 5% others, and the rest Shi`ah, i.e., around 30%. (In Baghdad there were 5 million souls out of which 55% were Sunni Arabs; Kurdish Sunnis not counted). What the Western media means by saying that Shi`ah are in majority in Iraq, is that the Kurds – although Sunni – should be treated as a separate ethnic group. It is another thing that even if the Kurds are not counted, the Sunni are still in majority. Whether this minority will be able to make true their dreams, is neither easy to dismiss (in view of Shi`ah tenacity, persistence, and readiness to die for political causes), nor easy to admit (in view of the equal tenacity of the Sunnis, and general opposition to the idea by other states). The apprehension is that either through direct rule or regimes planted by it, the power and influence of the Iranians will create an arch starting from Lebanon, Syria, Southern Iraq, the Gulf States and Yemen. Iraq then, is a crucial battle-ground.
The West also stands at a juncture: will it continue with its Crusade against Islam and Muslims or turn inward to attend to its social, economic and moral problems that are eating it from within and rendering it hollow. (Other leading nations of the world wish the USA to remain stuck in Iraq so that it bleeds itself to death. With 250 billion dollar yearly borrowings from China to continue doing business, it might become an insolvent nation in another decade). A section of American population suffers from schizophrenia. It is they who are the backbone of the neocons, who in turn can as well be described as lunatics. We do not know of any other nation in history which threw away in just a couple of years what it had earned in last three hundred years: dignity.
There is much that is happening these days that makes the Muslims feel depressed. But the glow on the face of a dignified man, shining bright from behind the noose, displaying the tranquility of a pilgrim about to embark upon his pilgrimage journey, has restored the self-confidence of Muslims the world over. What was planned by those who delivered him to death, in the manner they did, as a reminder of Muslim humiliation, became their moment of regret and Muslim moment of pride. The testimony, “there is no Lord save one God ..” coming from an unfailing voice, in the arms of death, reverberated throughout the world, reducing those who were in a hurry to finish him off, as mere crows that caw before the cameras. Strange are the ways of the world. That day, what the Americans lost, the Muslims gained.