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A cry from the mosque
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - As the battle continued on Wednesday in Fallujah, where US troops are inextricably regaining control of the Sunni insurgent stronghold, resistance fighters have broken into small groups of four or five across the city to resist their militarily far superior opponents. At this writing they have shown no signs of retreating or surrendering, at least for a few more days, despite no running water, food shortages and dwindling arms supplies.

The people of Fallujah have a history of defiance against rulers, no matter who they have been. Fallujah was a narrow swath of territory that provided the bulk of the Iraqi military elite under the Ottomans. It was the western wing of a system of military bases and garrison towns developed under Saddam Hussein, with the eastern wing represented by Baqubah in the north - Saddam was ever fearful of a coup against him.

Because of its role as a garrison city, Fallujah was home to large numbers of military families. According to some estimates, at least a quarter of the city's 300,000 inhabitants consisted of the Iraqi military, including the Republican Guard and the various paramilitary forces set up by Saddam and his sons. The largest number of families from the Popular Army (Haras al-Qowmi), set up by the Ba'athists in the 1960s, was also located in Fallujah.

To this military tradition must be added the city's religious character as the biggest concentration point for Salafi radicals since the 19th century. This was bound to clash with its role as a military center. The first showdown came in the mid-1980s when the government ordered that all mosque sermons must end with praise and prayers for Saddam. Fallujah's clerics refused, many of them ending up in prison as a result.

Saddam also put the financial squeeze on the city's religious seminaries by cutting off government subsidies. But this was partly compensated thanks to donations from the oil-rich Persian Gulf states, where Salafi organizations and charities are strong. Several Gulf states also built hospitals, orphanages and other social facilities in Fallujah as a tribute to its Salafi nature.

When the 2003 war started, Fallujah had no reason to side with Saddam. But then a number of unfortunate incidents happened, the first of which came in March 2003 when a British bomber fired four laser-guided missiles into a bridge over the Euphrates to the south of Fallujah. Three of the missiles missed the target and fell into the river. But the fourth went astray and hit an open-air bazaar inside Fallujah, killing about 150 civilians. The accident was seized on by the local Salafis and the remnants of Saddam's army and Republican Guard to foment hatred against the US-led coalition.

Now once again, US Operation Phantom Fury has ignited anger and given anti-US elements renewed life.

It is a foregone conclusion that the US forces will take Fallujah, but people Asia Times Online spoke to in Iraq maintain that a powerful civil disobedience movement is being planned across the urban centers of the country.

A group of predominantly Sunni religious leaders in Fallujah, headed by the mufti of the city, Jamal Shakir an-Nazal, and Hamzah al-Mufti have already issued calls for civil disobedience in all departments of the "puppet government" against the "regime of Iyad Allawi" if the bombardment of Fallujah continues.

The call comes in support of a legal opinion issued by Mahdi as-Samidi of the Salafi puritan movement in Iraq, in which he proclaimed that it was not permissible for any Muslim to join the "puppet so-called national guard", and demanded that any soldiers already in that force should leave it. As-Samidi noted that the force assists the US occupation of Iraq in striking cities and people in the country, a violation of Islamic teaching.

A major Sunni Muslim political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party (Hizbul Islami al-Iraqi), is already set to mobilize the masses in its strongholds of al-Adymia, Baghdad, Samarra, Mosul and Basra.

Analysts say such political agitation would give the Kurds, who believe they are under-represented in the interim government, a chance to vent their frustration by giving their moral support to the movement. They have already condemned the Fallujah operation.

Once a genuine political agitation campaign begins, apart from military resistance, former Ba'athist leaders from Basra to Kirkuk from different ethnic and religious backgrounds could join in the fray to reclaim their political role - they were banned by the US-installed administration from taking part in any political or administrative activities.

They tried their hand earlier this year when the Mehdi Army of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tried to take center stage in the anti-US movement, after being infiltrated by Ba'athist elements. After a long confrontation with US forces in Najaf in the south, Muqtada backed off and struck a deal with the US government to disarm the militia. Yet the Ba'athists remain, ready to pounce again.

Syed Saleem Shahzadis Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at

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Nov 11, 2004
Asia Times Online Community

The real fury of Fallujah
(Nov 10, '04)

Phantom victory
(Nov 10, '04)

Fighting in an urban jungle
(Nov 10, '04)

Fanning the flames of resistance
(Nov 9, '04)

No carrots, all stick in Iraq
(Nov 9, '04)

Fallujah: Inside the Iraqi resistance
A series by Nir Rosen


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