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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Shahzadis Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online.
He can be reached at [email protected].
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