Sunday, January 19, 2014

Iraq: Has Brotherhood Hijacked Protests?

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Islamist Gate

Decades of suppression under Saddam Hussein's Baath party has either kept political Islamist forces led 'ideologically' by the Muslim Brotherhood in their shells or forced their leaders into self-imposed exile in several Western countries.
Saddam's iron-fist policies have curtailed the expansion of the Brotherhood and Islamists in general.

Today, the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq has no 'formal' organization. The closest-linked affiliate body ideologically is, however, the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), whose support base is almost exclusively Sunni Arab.

The IIP's most prominent member in recent years was Tariq al-Hashimi, the vice-president who fled to Turkey in the face of an arrest warrant in December 2011 and a subsequent death sentence in absentia after being convicted in court of masterminding and financing terrorist operations and targeted assassinations of Shiite figures.

Following on from the government's arrest warrant against the bodyguards of another leading Sunni politician, Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi in December 2012, the IIP started to play a prominent role in organizing protests in Sunni Arab areas against the Shiite-led government.
The protesters in the very beginning of their sit-in (which started in late 2012) were united against 'one enemy'; namely, the prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki and his government. They were chanting in unison against what they perceived as marginalization and discrimination by Shiite Maliki.
But later on, several political slogans and placards that had nothing to do with their 'cause' started to become more visible at several protests especially at the main sit-in camp in the city of Ramadi, the capital of the Sunni Anbar province (the largest in Iraq with joint borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia).
For example, in the city of Samarra, on one Friday protest demonstrators were holding placards with the "R4BIA" symbol, featuring a yellow background and a black hand with four fingers upheld to commemorate the hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood protesters killed after Egyptian security forces broke up by force the main protest camp for the Islamist group in August of last year.
One of the placards featuring the R4BIA symbol read: "The Sunnis of Iraq are With You.. Oh People of Egypt." At other protest sites, Brotherhood-leaning clerics could be heard denouncing the 'coup' in Egypt as a conspiracy organized by the Coptic Church and Western powers against Islam.
Such politicized slogans among other reasons have actually divided the Sunni community down the middle.
The heavy-handed government approach against the protesters has paved the way to the emergence of old insurgent Sunni groups like Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshibandia (JRTN: a Ba'athist-Sufi armed group led by Saddam's right-hand man Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri) in the form of "Military Councils for the Revolutionaries of Sunni provinces (known as MCRs).
Some of the prominent Sunni politicians and their tribes have further chosen to throw their lot into the government camp.
Anbar governor, Ahmed Khalaf al-Dulaimi, who up to late December had supported the Sunni protesters, is backing now Maliki, who had ordered the breakup of the Ramadi protest camp, alleging that it had become a cover-up to Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Furthermore, the MCR insurgents and their supporters - many of whom are driven by a belief that Sunni Arabs constitute a demographic majority in Iraq and that therefore the Shiite-led government in Baghdad should be overthrown - view the IIP as a collaborator with Maliki, deriding it as the "Party of Surrender" (al-Hizb al-Istislami, playing on al-Hizb al-Islami) and have accused IIP-affiliated militants of the "Iraqi Hamas" of siding with "Maliki's militias."
This anger towards the IIP is also reflected at the wider popular level in Sunni Arab areas, and has culminated in the recent burning by MCR-linked fighters of the IIP's headquarters in Fallujah.
Even among those who decided not to take up arms against the government as happened in Fallujah and some parts in nearby Ramadi, the IIP is heavily criticized for not taking the initiative in calling for a Sunni federal region in western Iraq. They accuse the IIP leaders of being complacent as they insisted on 'reforming' the incumbent government rather than toppling it.
Consequently, the 'moderate' IIP has become largely marginal in recent months with militant, tribal Sunni groups having the upper hand in dictating the course of action.
Given that the revived Sunni insurgency is expected to take several months if not years to quell at the minimum, the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole in Iraq is likely to remain on the peripheries for quite some time.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University.

No comments: