By WAQAR RIZVI
A nation under attack by outsiders out to destroy the state and defame the faith of the majority rises up in an act of defense at the call-to-arms issued by a religious scholar.
Minorities, both ethnic and of other faiths and sects, increasingly join the ranks of these volunteer fighters, whose goal is to support the country’s armed forces in bringing back peace and stability for all citizens. Instead of supporting the effort to rid itself of an imposed and brutal enemy, the world scolds the nation’s volunteer forces for apparently increasing tensions and divisions within the country, saying that it is because of them that these outsiders are able to garner enough support to carry out their atrocities.
The religious scholar at the centre of the call-to-arms speaks out against and demands harsh punishment of those who stray from what is, in his opinion, a religious duty to rid the nation of its peoples’ enemies. The world jumps on these slip-ups, using them as the perfect cover of what they see as a need to divide the country. A long-standing proposal to divide-and-rule the nation by yesterday’s occupiers comes to the fore. The nation is at a crossroads. Does it let outsiders dictate its future, or does it stand strong, close ranks and fight in an effort to usher in a better and united future for its future generations?
This is the story of Iraq you have not often heard, or cared to hear. Iraq’s heroes, fighting to save their country, are seen as anything but by a world which instead sees the foot-soldiers of yesterday’s occupier, regardless of their infinite known and unknown crimes in this foreign land, as the true heroes. This is the twilight zone where two parallel realities can apparently exist at once, while only one is actually real.
From the moment Donald Rumsfeld’s misplaced fantasy of Iraqis greeting his country’s forces as ‘liberators’ failed to come true, the narrative about Iraq has been one limited to sectarianism and division.
That yesterday’s suppressed majority Shia population would naturally come to power in a democracy was twisted into a biased argument that the Shias are retaliating against the Sunni and other minorities, regardless of how rare any such incidents were.
Iraq’s division has been the dream of many, including the current US Vice President Joe Biden, who advocated for separate states within Iraq as far back as 2006, and the US Congress, which has proposed a defense bill that would treat Sunni and Kurdish forces as separate ‘countries’ with rights to receive individual US assistance.
Regional dictator-monarchs’ legitimacy within their own borders is based on proving that Iraq since Saddam cannot stand up for itself as a strong nation. Without the presence of a weak Iraqi democracy, the sheikhdoms of the region can foresee their palaces crumbling before their eyes, as their people, at some point, realize that they too can stand up without the need of their puppet sell-out leaders.
The easiest road to ensuring a division in the hearts and minds of Iraqis is to resort to the Iran boogeyman. Within this umbrella, it is Iran’s ‘militias’ whom are running wild in Iraq and Iran wants to even set-up its own state within Iraq. It sounds and reads like nothing less than a well-thought-out and creative novel.
Ayatollah Sistani, the highest level religious scholar in Iraq, who had issued the call-to-arms for volunteers to fight against the imposed Daesh cancer, has made it clear that this was and is all for the preservation of Iraq. While Iran has provided help to Iraq, this does not mean that Iraqi sovereignty has been handed over to it. To have expected Iran not to get involved in the Daesh crisis in Iraq would be foolhardy, as with the shared border, Iran needs a stable and strong Iraq to ensure its own security.
Ayatollah Sistani has said of Iraqi independence, through his spokesman, ‘We are proud of our country and our identity and our independence and sovereignty. While we welcome any help offered today from our brothers and friends in our fight against the terrorists and thank them for that, this doesn’t mean in any way that we would ignore our identity and independence.’ Neither Ayatollah Khamenei nor anyone else in the Iranian establishment has ever argued against that, as Iraqi independence is indeed vital.
There has been an effort to show Iraq and Iran’s scholars as being on two opposing plains of thought, and yet while there are some differences the cooperation between the two countries’ governments and scholars prove otherwise. If anything, the fight against Daesh has brought the two countries governments and scholars closer. Iran was the first to help Iraq against Daesh, there are regular meetings of Iranian officials with Ayatollah Sistani, and vice versa with the latter’s representatives’ meetings with Ayatollah Khamenei. The presumption of a divide between the two countries scholars and governments has been a miscalculation.
As hard as it may be for those within and outside the region who have invested much in ensuring the division of Iraqis to accept, Ayatollah Sistani’s stances have assured unity, if followed. He has not only spoken out strongly against and demanded accountability in any proven cases of errors by volunteer forces, or even the government’s official forces, but has issued guidelines for fighters on the battlefield. A small excerpt of this guideline reads, ‘Do not indulge in acts of extremism, do not disrespect dead corpses, do not resort to deceit, do not kill an elder, do not kill a child, do not kill a woman, and do no not cut down trees unless necessity dictates otherwise.’
From the very beginning, the power of scholars in Iraq, such as Ayatollah Sistani, has been grossly underestimated by both occupying forces, as well as regional dictator-monarchs. Scholars have demanded that theirs be an independent country free of occupation and corruption, and one based on transparency, accountability, and justice for all Iraqis, regardless of faith, ethnicity, and tribal affiliation.
For all the hype about Iran taking over and lessening Iraqi sovereignty in this fight, statements of volunteer forces are telling. Hadi al-Ameri, the head of the Badr Organisation, confirmed that the Iraqi state has the final say over Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs). He told al-Sumaria TV that, ‘After Sayyed Sistani’s fatwa, we were left with no choice but to take up arms and fight. These are, however, the state’s arms. The Badr Organization doesn’t possess any weapons.’ Also, Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq echoed the above in an interview with the al-Ahd television channel by saying that PMUs were ‘national factions for sure...part of the Iraqi state institutions, and committed to the decisions of the commander-in-chief [the Iraqi prime minister]’.
As with any reporting on the Middle East, Iraq too has been the victim of a stolen narrative. It is time for Iraqis to demand and be given back control of this narrative. While ensuring the defeat of imposed enemies bent on destroying their country, Iraqis must ensure this fight is done in the right way, while preserving their independence from all. Let this essential fight against Daesh be the start of a better future for all the peoples, tribes, ethnicities, and minorities of a united, strong, and independent Iraq.