The continuing fighting and kidnappings in Iraq
are forcing new political players to emerge on the Iraqi
political scene. The Association of Muslim Clerics, a
Sunni religious organization, is one of them.
The association has reportedly been active in
helping to broker the fragile truce between US troops
and Iraqi Sunni rebels in Fallujah. It also helped to
free seven Chinese nationals who were kidnapped in Iraq
and has issued an edict condemning all hostage taking in
Shaykh Harith al-Dhari, one of the
leaders of the Baghdad-based organization, told RFE/RL:
"The organization is a legitimate religious, political,
social, but also a patriotic, organization. It fulfills
its duties under the circumstances through which our
country is going through. It has its point of view and
opinions and has an interest in what's going on in the
country. It declares what it believes in and it declares
what it finds to be suitable and takes necessary
political or social and even economic steps because it
has a duty to do that. It was established on May 14,
Mustafa Alani is an associate fellow in
the Middle East and North Africa Program at Britain's
Royal United Services Institute. Alani told RFE/RL that
the Association of Muslim Clerics was formed in response
to a power vacuum among Sunnis. After the US-led
occupation of Iraq, the country's Shi'ite majority was
well represented by political parties and also by the
clerical hierarchy in the holy cities of Najaf and
Karbala. He said the Association of Muslim Clerics aimed
to mobilize Iraq's Sunni minority, which had been left
with almost no political voice in the wake of the
Alani said the initiatives of the
association are based on a strong sense of Iraqi
nationalism and in a desire to see Shi'ites, Sunnis and
Kurds united against the US-led occupation.
Alani said the association includes many Sunni
religious leaders, such as Abd al-Salam al-Kubaisi and
Abd al-Satar Abd al-Jabar. "This institution basically
contains a number of people who are famous as Sunni
ulama [religious scholars] - the imams of Abu Hanifa
mosque and Abd al-Kadr Gailani mosque," he said. "So
those people were known before, but nobody knows them as
a part of a political movement or political structure.
So the institution, because it contains the names of
these famous people, has become very influential."
According to Alani, the association is not
represented on the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) because
it does not recognize the legitimacy of the US-appointed
body. Fuad Husayn, an Iraqi adviser to the Coalition
Provisional Authority, noted, however, that the
association enjoys good relations with many Sunni
political groups, and especially with the Iraqi Islamic
Party, which is represented on the IGC.
also said both the Association of Muslim Clerics and the
Iraqi Islamic Party have common ideological roots in the
Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni political movement well
known in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood was
active in Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s until Saddam
Hussein pushed it underground. Many members of the
association were for many years persecuted by Saddam's
Husayn believes the association is
becoming increasingly involved in politics, although it
insists it is not a political grouping. "They don't say
they are a political party, but actually what they are
doing is politics because they say they represent the
interest of the Sunni people and sometimes they say they
represent the interests of Muslims in Iraq," he said.
"So their activities have to do with politics, while
they are saying they are not a political organization."
Alani of the Royal United Services Institute
said the Association of Muslim Clerics consists of two
branches - a Sunni Arab division and a Sunni Kurdish
one. He said these divisions - determined according to
ethnic lines - clearly indicate the association's
pan-Iraqi political aspirations.
"It is an
entity or institution, which has a political objective,
as well. They think that in the new Iraq, there will be
a need for some representation of Sunni Arabs and Kurds,
especially the Islamist movement of these two
communities, and they want basically to play this role,"
Alani said the association also has
good relations with the Shi'ites, especially with the
followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and radical
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers have
instigated much of the recent unrest in Iraq.
Alani said the influence of the organization
seems to be on the rise in Iraq. He said its efforts at
brokering a ceasefire in Fallujah and securing the
release of some of the foreign hostages in Iraq have
been a help both to the US-led administration in the
country and also to the militants.
contributed to this story from Baghdad.)
Valentinas Mite is a correspondent for
RFE/RL in Prague, and spent three months in Iraq last
year covering the post-Saddam Hussein situation.