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memri
April 8, 2005 No.
888

Iraqi Sunnis Shift Position: 64 Clerics Legitimize Enlistment in New Iraqi Security Forces

In the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 and the rise of Iraq's Shiites as the country's dominant political force, Iraq's Sunnis, who for centuries controlled Iraq, are now finding themselves greatly weakened politically, even marginalized. As a result, the three predominantly Sunni governorates in northwestern Iraq have become centers of insurgency and the source of most terrorist activities perpetrated by Abu Mus'ib al-Zarqawi. Many Sunnis also boycotted the January 30 elections, stating that they would participate only if a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces was set first.

A Sunni Shift in Position

Since the elections, the Sunnis appear to regret their boycott, which has only increased their political isolation. Indeed, the Sunnis are showing an increasing interest in rejoining the political process and in taking an active part in the drafting of a new constitution.

A dramatic manifestation of this shift in the Sunni position was the fatwa issued by 64 Sunni clerics legitimizing enlistment in the country's growing security forces.

The Fatwa's Message

The fatwa called on Iraqis to join the ranks of the Iraqi military and police "if sincere intent is observed" and if the soldier/policeman "adheres to serving his religion, his country, and his nation, and does not support the occupier of his country."

In a Friday sermon at the Umm Al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad, [1] Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Abd Al-Ghafour Al-Samara'i, director general of the Sunni Waqf (religious endowments) described enlistment in the security forces as an action dictated by "the current critical situation, reflecting the priorities established by religious jurisprudence, and as an action relying on the words of the religious scholars in distinguishing between good and bad, and because the preservation of the security of the people and the country is an obligation that cannot be fulfilled at this time without a military and police force [comprising] the honest and loyal elements… Non-participation in the military and police by decent and competent [Sunnis] only provides an opportunity for others [who want to harm security]."

Al-Samara'i described the fatwa as "an effort by a large number of religious scholars to serve the well-being of the country and the people."

In a subsequent interview with the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Al-Samara'i added: "The fatwa is the solution to the current critical situation. It is a call for consultation… The true resistance understands, and does not wish to have militias governing the country. The [security forces'] poor conduct in making arrests and the harm and destruction wrought to places of prayer and other places have compelled us to issue this fatwa." [2] The fatwa was also signed by Sheikh Ahmad Hassan Al-Taha, imam of the Abu-Hanifa Mosque in Samaraa, and Sheikh Ziad Mahmoud Al-Aani, dean of the Islamic College in Baghdad and a member of the Islamic Party. [3]

To date, one of the insurgents' primary targets has been security personnel, most of whom are Shiites. The Sunni clerics' encouragement of Sunnis to enlist will necessitate a change in the insurgents' tactics, if not strategy.

Al-Sistani Makes a Similar Appeal

A few days later, on March 22, a similar fatwa was issued by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. In response to a question from an Iraqi citizen concerning whether it was "a religious duty to collaborate with the agencies responsible for preserving security in the country," Al-Sistani answered: "Yes. It is necessary, provided that religious imperatives are preserved." [4]


[1] The Umm al-Qura Mosque was built by Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War as Umm al-Ma'rik Mosque (Mosque of the Mother of All Battles).

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 2, 2005.

[3] Al-Ahali Weekly (Baghdad), April 5, 2005.

[4] Al-Mada (Baghdad), April 2, 2005.