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Iraq and Turkey: Rituals of Signs and Transformations - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iraq is seeking a national secular solution to save the country from complete disaster, while in Turkey, the army wields its stick at Islamists who threaten the principles of the Atatürk’s state—a paradox that calls for contemplation.

This is the only thing in common between Iraq and Turkey, and, with the exception of this, the two pictures widely differ. Turkey is a stable, powerful state where Islamists came to power through the constitutional mechanisms of democracy, while Iraq has been lost between two parties of Islamists: the ruling Shia “coalition” and the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and the opposition that is close to them, which necessitates resorting to the purely national option that rejects sectarianism and any other form of religious or racial criterion. Resorting to such an option in Iraq has been made necessary by the bloodshed, the endless stream of suicide bombers and accumulation of deadly car bombs that take place on a daily basis only to ruin what has remained of Iraq’s well-being and vigor.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003, Iraq has been run on a narrow agenda of Iran-linked fundamental Shia parties, with the exception of the brief term of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who fought the terrorism of Al Qaeda in Fallujah and was on the point of eliminating al Sadr’s terrorism in Najaf had it not been for Sayyid al Sistani’s last minute intervention.

Since the fundamentalist Shia came to power, they have been engaged in ongoing conflict and tension with Sunni groups. It seemed that the allies of the Shia coalition are governing the country with a vindictive mentality, and it does suffice to look at the scandals of the Ministry of Interior’s prisons under Minister Bayan Jabar Solagh, not to mention the Mehdi Army’s anti-Sunni crimes.

Before these crimes, of course, the Al Qaeda of al Zarqawi committed similar crimes against Iraq’s Shia population, raised sectarian consciousness in the country and instigated fighting the so-called “rejectionists,” a sectarian label used by Sunni fanatics to describe the Shia.

The general idea is that the country has slipped into a gloomy sectarian atmosphere, with the sectarian icons becoming the masters of the scene, and political life has declined on account of the political blocs that were based on hateful sectarian grounds regardless of the extent to which the members of these blocs boasted of being patriotic rather than sectarian. The Shia coalition was insincere as it denied being sectarian, and the Sunni Accordance Front has also failed to be absolutely sincere, although the latter is not purely or innately fundamentalist.

From the very beginning, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi cautioned against the creation of sectarian-based political groupings. In particular he cautioned the coalition group and the Accordance group, but al Hakim, the [Islamic] Dawa Party and Sadrists had unrestrained sectarian scores to settle as well as government and wealth ambitions. Accordingly, calling on Adnan al Dulaimi or Khalaf al Ulyan to abandon Sunni sectarianism is absurd in light of this sectarian separation, the borders of which are drawn in blood. In this respect, I am not talking about Harith al Dari, whose case is different.

Now, under the government of Maliki, a proponent of the Dawa Party who is labeled the “guard of coalition”, despite what is reported about his firmness regarding security and Bush’s praise of him, he seems incapable of doing anything significant, and it makes no difference whether this incapability is due to his lack of influence and power or due to his internal calculations that hold him back from disbanding militias, most importantly the Sadr militia (Mehdi Army). No-one who is “realistic and reasonable” disagrees with Maliki or the Americans over the necessity to disband Al Qaeda militias or any other Sunni military groups. Mystery, however, surrounds the position towards Shia militias. Maliki’s role in lifting the siege on Muqtada al Sadr’s groups in Sadr city at an earlier stage is a prime example of how Nuri al Maliki fell short of fighting the Sadr militias.

Regardless of Maliki’s actions, speeches and promises of security plans, there is a line that he cannot pass. After all, he is raised in the culture of the fundamentalist Dawa Party, a culture that may be appropriate within a neighborhood or a students union or even a Husaynia, but that is inappropriate for running a country.

What country?

The country is Iraq, which is rich in diverse sects, religions and resources, and the borders of which overlook the heart of the Middle East.

Hence, the recent international conference on Iraq in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, was an important salvation conference. In my opinion, the key outcome of both Sharm el Sheikh conferences is the solidarity for building a national and civil Iraq rather than a sectarian Iraq.

A consensus was reached on saving Iraq from infighting, partition and civil war and salvaging the country from sectarian division, especially as the matter has reached a critical point, taking into account the growing internal pressures in America for withdrawal on the “dying” Bush administration, which Iyad Allawi referred to in an interview with Lebanon’s ANB television. He said the rapid departure of American forces would cause the Iraqi crisis to sink into further chaos and devastation, which would then cross the borders into Iraq’s neighboring countries. Therefore, the time available for salvation is limited and others have to be involved in shouldering the responsibility for Iraq instead of the crisis being confined to America and American calculations. This highlights the importance of extending the role of the UN, the permanent Security Council members and the active regional players—Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

As we have said, in spite of all the fatalities and car bombs that we see on a daily basis, Iraq’s big bang has yet to take place. It is one that will resemble a major volcanic eruption, the lava of which will shoot into neighboring states and muddle the horizons with its black fumes. Therefore, it is a necessity rather than an added extra to intervene in Iraq. All attempts, last of which was the security plan, to repair the Iraqi situation have failed because they were not based on political accord between the Iraqis themselves, and therefore we heard Sunni bloc leader Adnan al Dulaimi say openly that the “plan was intended against the Sunnis only!” He argued that the Iraqi Accordance Front [predominantly Sunni] would never participate in the government but that it would remain in parliament.

The validity of al Dulaimi’s comments is not the issue. The question is that he said it and that this is the prevailing mood!

For that reason, the “International Compact with Iraq” in Sharm el Sheikh insisted upon the building of a unified, non-sectarian Iraq and abolishing the laws that facilitate the thriving of sectarianism such as the law to disband the army or the Debathification law, and stressed a number of demands that ultimately serve the building of another Iraq.

The compact derives its importance from the support it received from the 50 participants that took part in the neighbors’ conference. It provided for the setting up of a permanent secretariat that comprises of Iraq and the UN, and associated economic aids to the implementation of the compact points that boil down to the demolition of the fundamentalist and sectarian states and the backing of a secular, national state.

Hence, after the bloodshed and devastation that have brought about backwardness and hatred in Iraq for four years, we have a secular, national option arising out of necessity and a crucial need rather than out of theories and a cry for a national, non-sectarian, non-religious state. After all, neither the fundamentalist Shia are capable of running the state in accordance with the Dawa Party’s theories nor the Sunnis of governing in accordance with Abu Omar al Baghdadi’s Islamic state in western Iraq, nor the Kurds of gaining independence or accepting the model of either party, not to mention the other minor sects and religions in Iraq. So what is appropriate for all of these [groups] and thus appropriate for their neighbors and the world around them? It is a secular, national thinking that runs the Iraqi state in a way that raises above all sectarian differences and other specifics.

Here we are faced with a living example of how real ideas are yielded by reality and realistic demands not by books, articles or zealous speeches. The news reported the rise of a new political Iraqi bloc that will form a different “umbrella” for political action that encompasses various groups from Allawi’s national list, Saleh al Mutlaq’s list, the Accordance Front or even from some Kurdish, Turkmen or other movements, that consolidates this approach and calls for the rejection of sectarianism. It further supports the consolidation of a purely national state on the ground not by sugar-coated speeches, and clearing the army and security forces of all sectarian impurities. Such an umbrella would remain open for anyone who wants to join. Allawi said he aspired to attract some forces from al Hakim’s coalition, such as the Fadila Party, “parts” of the Sadr current, and “parts” of both the Talabani-led Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Barazani-led Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). This umbrella is backed by the so-called six-state Arab commission.

It was odd that the Kurdistan Islamic Union, an Islamist faction, joined this non-fundamentalist national umbrella, which means that a non-religious state can sometimes be the best option for those who want to be comfortably religious. What a real paradox!

So Iraq is heading towards a secular national state, and Atatürk’s Turkey is concerned over its secular republic and is apprehensive about any Islamic or religious symbol, even of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Abdullah Gul kind, who both constitute the most open-minded version of political Islam out of “all” Islamist political parties in the world.

Does this race between the two neighbors towards political secularism in one case and the protection of secularism in the other reflect the contradicting, muddled trends in the region? Or is it a race that heralds the delivery of something new by this productive region, and hence we are facing “rituals of signs and transformations,” according to Saadallah Wannous’s famous play?

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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