During an Iraqi TV debate, Sunni and Shiite commentators clashed over the role of the Shiite Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militia in the military campaign in Tikrit, in the Salah Al-Din province of Iraq. Participating in the debate were Abu Wareth Al-Musawi, spokesman for the Al-Nujaba Movement, part of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, Amman-based Iraqi researcher Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi, and Qais Al-Ameri, of the National Iraqi Alliance. After much wrangling between the participants, Al-Kubaisi got up and left the studio in protest. The debate aired on Dijlah TV on March 14, 2015.
Following are excerpts:
TV host Adnan Al-Taee: Many criticized Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi for perpetrating human rights violations. Even Al-Azhar criticized the Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi "militia."
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi, spokesman for the Shiite Al-Nujaba Movement: Some view the war in Salah Al-Din Province as a war driven by revenge or sectarianism. We seek peace and security.
We adhere to the basic rules of war. We do not attack old men or little children. We do not kill women or burn down homes. These deeds were perpetrated by the villainous ISIS gangs, in an effort to tarnish the image of the popular forces on the scene.
Interviewer: Do you really want to claim that Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi is innocent, that it has not perpetrated massacres, and that its conduct has been pure and impeccable?
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: Adnan, I am not being narcissistic, and I am not living in a rosy dream. I am talking about the facts on the ground. We are not the kind of people who know only the language of bullets, smell only the scent of gunpowder, and taste only the flavor of blood. We bear [the message] of humanity. For 1,400 years, we have adhered to a true basic principle: There are two kinds of people – your brother in Islam and your fellow human being. We know that the shari'a protects the life, honor, and property of Muslims, so how could we possibly violate these prohibition and do those things? We did not behead people or steal from their homes. We did not burn down homes. What happened in Salah Al-Din…
Interviewer: C'mon, sir. There are photos that refute what you are saying.
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: Show me evidence to back this up. If there are such photos, we are prepared to be held accountable by you, by the law, and by the entire Muslim society.
Amman-based Iraqi researcher Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: Let's go back to the night of July 9, 2014. That was a crucial moment. That was when three military divisions fled from Mosul in disgrace, laying down their weapons without a fight. As for Tikrit, I asked a local sheik how the Iraqi army fled from the city, and what the circumstances of the battle were. He said that ISIS merely signed with flashlights from afar, and the army fled. Why did it flee? I'll tell you why. Because there was a complete lack of trust between the public in these [mostly Sunni] provinces, and the army and police. That was the context. There has not been no change in the military institution, so you cannot tell me that the current battle of Tikrit restores unity to the national fabric. Any such claim is meaningless.
Interviewer: But the leadership has changed.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: No, it hasn't. That's not true. The leadership remains the same.
Interviewer: It has changed. It is not the same as during the Mosul events.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: If by leadership you mean one man – I don't buy it. If you are claiming that replacing Al-Maliki with Al-Abadi constitutes change, this is not true. The [PM] office has not changed. The sectarian foundation of the conflict in Iraq has not changed, and Mr. Abadi is the product of this conflict. I appeared alongside Al-Abadi on BBC TV three days before he was declared PM, and vehemently defended Al-Maliki's policies. So nothing has changed.
These are ideological militias. Your guest Mr. Musawi knows what I mean by "ideological." If you check the website of the Al-Nujaba movement, you will see a picture of Khamenei. What does Khamenei have to do with a movement that supposedly operates within the framework of Iraqi law?
Interviewer: My brother, he is a symbol.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: No, he isn't. dear sir, if we want to just say things, we can do that.
Brother: Brother, the Communists would raise the picture of Guevara. It didn't make them Cuban, did it?
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: No. We are talking about an ideological aspect. 90% of the militias fighting under the title of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi believe in the principle of the Absolute Rule of the Jurisprudent. Consequently, they believe that Khamenei is a representative of the Hidden Imam. This means that these militias are subordinate to no Iraqi whatsoever. They do not follow Al-Sistani as a source of authority, nor do they follow Al-Abadi. Only Khamenei has authority over these ideological militias.
Interviewer: The leaders of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi are connected to Iran. Hadi Al-Ameri is connected to Iran. Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis is connected to Iran. As for Qassem Soleimani, well… All the leaders…
Qais Al-Ameri of the National Iraqi Alliance: Qassem Soleimani is not Iraqi. He is an Iranian military expert…
Interviewer: What kind of an expert it is he?! You could have brought us 1,000 [Iraqi] experts like him. He just sits there and uploads videos to YouTube every day.
Qais Al-Amerii: I wish all the experts from the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia, who are based in Baghdad and in the Al-Assad and Speicher airbases, were as brave as him.
Any allegation that Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi is tainted with sectarianism is false. An important political Sunni force is part of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi. The [Sunni] Al-Jabouri tribe plays a major role in Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi.
Interviewer: Sir, that's 250 people.
Qais Al-Amerii: No, it's not. These figures are not accurate.
Interviewer: Are you trying to convince me that the Sunnis play a major role in Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi? I don't believe it.
Qais Al-Amerii: Whatever. That's your problem, not mine.
Interviewer: Do you feel that Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi is welcome in the Sunni areas?
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: What?
Interviewer: Are you welcome in the Sunni areas?
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: Yes, yes.
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: You could see on TV how the women of Al-Dour and Al-Alam received us. You could see on TV how the women of Al-Dour and Al-Alam received us.
Interviewer: Abu Wareth, please. What are you doing in Tikrit?
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: I was forced to fight when I saw my country being ripped apart. I saw the holy places being… The Sunnis… When ISIS violates our honor, scorches our lands, and turns people into human shields – am I supposed to just cry and lament and succumb to a sectarian mentality?! Not so long ago, Ali bin Abi Taleb fought for the sake of the Christians. We are fighting for the sake of churches, for the sake of human beings. Do you expect me to let ISIS members from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, or China to just burn and kill?
Interviewer: I fear that you are fighting for an Iranian cause, not an Iraqi one.
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: We are not fighting on behalf of Iran or any other country. We are fighting for the sake of the image of Islam, which has been distorted by ISIS.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: After the Americans entered [Iraq in 2003], a Salafi from the city of Al-Alam, called Abu Manar Al-Alami, fabricated a fatwa permitting cooperation with the victors. He even published a book to that effect. Thus, the entire Jabouri clan and all the people of Al-Alam began to support the Americans. Then they became Awakening Councils, and later they became Al-Maliki allies. Now they are alies of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi. These people do not represent the Sunnis.
Half of the Al-Bu Nimr tribe is a part of ISIS.
Interviewer: You are talking about half the Sunnis…
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: No. That's not true. I am a researcher. I do not fabricate or do propaganda. I present facts and prove them. Follow me. The Jabouri clan is a major component of ISIS. Any claim that the Jabouri clan is fighting alongside the government is not true.
The same propaganda that was used in 1991 [by Saddam] is being used today. In 1991, when the army, the Republican Guard, and their supporters entered the [Shiite] areas of central and south Iraq – the same rhetoric I am hearing from your guest was used back then.
Your two guests want to be the ones to determine who is a good Sunni. They want to decide who is a good Sunni and who is a bad Sunni, just like Saddam Hussein was the one to decide who were good Shiites and who were riffraff. It's the same thing, the same logic. The Fascist logic that we are witnessing in Iraq today…
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: This is the same Saddam that you extol…
Interviewer: Abu Wareth, I beg you not to interrupt my guest. Nobody interrupted you.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: I will not stoop to this level. Rein in your guests, or I'm leaving. Control them. They should be more polite. Rein in your guests, or I'm leaving. Control them. They should be more polite.
Interviewer: Abu Wareth and Al-Ameri, let's continue this interview in a professional manner. I am dividing up the time between you. I have a watch right here. Mr. Kubaisi, from what I know…
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: But Adnan, your guest should watch what he is saying…
Interviewer: Just a second…
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: We are being very polite… We adhere to our history, our upbringing, and our moral values.
Interviewer: Please, my guest did not interrupt you. Why are you interrupting him? Let him talk…
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: He is talking about being polite…
Interviewer: Please, do not interrupt him. You can say whatever you like when it is your time to speak.
So far Americans, whose presence in Iraq rivals Iran's, are not certain that human rights violations occurred.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: No, no. Dempsey said this. What more do you want?
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: Adnan, the U.N. talked about the real violations: car bombs, massacre by suicide bombers, and the killing of innocent people in markets, hospitals, and mosques.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: Excellent! Your guest compares himself to ISIS. Excellent! That's what I wanted. He compares himself to ISIS. He says: ISIS does what it does, and we do what we do.
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: Do not put words in my mouth. Don't put words in my mouth. I was talking about the massacres by ISIS. We did not carry out such massacres…
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: You have perpetrated even worse ones.
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: We did not plant car bombs. You are putting words in my mouth. Your crimes are still evident in the streets and markets. You bombed the tombs of the prophets…
Interviewer: Abu Wareth, please…
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: He is trying to put words in my mouth.
Interviewer: Enough, please. Let's move to Qais Al-Ameri.
There is international concern that Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi is perpetrating human rights violations. The Arab world is also connected to Iran. Did you really need Iranian support for this national coalition? Was the Tikrit operation really necessary? You could have delayed the liberation of Tikrit for three months. In Mosul, it has been a year now. If you had delayed it for three months, you could have formed a Sunni national guard, which would liberate the Sunni regions. Why all this heroism? Why did Al- Hashd Al-Shaabi have to liberate Tikrit?
Qais Al-Ameri: Dr. Yahya used an impolite word…
Interviewer: No, I beg you. Just answer the question.
Qais Al-Ameri: This is an inappropriate show…
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: Just a second, what impolite word?
Qais Al-Ameri: We are being very polite.
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: You have no culture of dialogue. I didn't interrupt you. Why did you interrupt me?
Interviewer: Yahya, please.
Qais Al-Ameri: Up to this moment, I had respect for your guest…
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: I don't need your respect. To hell with your respect. To hell with your respect, okay? To hell with your respect!
Qais Al-Ameri: The things he is saying reminded me of what [human rights activist] Muhammad Al-Daini used to say…
Dr. Yahya Al-Kubaisi: Enough! Enough!
Kubaisi removes his earpiece and leaves the studio
Interviewer: I thank you…
Abu Wareth Al-Musawi: There are 2,000-3,000 American "advisors" in Iraq, yet people are afraid of one man called Qassem Soleimani?! If mothers in Palestine name their boys "Fajr" after a missile that pulverized Israel, we will name our boys after Qassem Soleimani…
Interviewer: Abu Wareth, I don't know anything about Palestine, Haifa, or Jaffa. I know about Karrada and Dhuluiya. Don't take me to Palestine. It is not my cause. Palestine is not the cause of the Iraqis. We don't want that Iranian rhetoric.