APRIL 14, 2009, 5:28 PM
By SAM DAGHER
ABU SAIFEEN – On Saturday we got word from one of my Iraqi colleagues that Shiite-on-Shiite clashes had supposedly broken out between militiamen loyal to Moktada al-Sadr and members of an Awakening Council in Baghdad’s Abu Saifeen neighborhood.
My colleague said the militiamen were allegedly fighting over a base at a local husseiniya, or Shiite house of worship.
We thought it would be a good idea to see what was going on.
Everything looked normal as we entered Abu Saifeen. There was no sound of gunfire and all shops and teahouses were open. It was the usual hustle and bustle in this poor working class area that is adjacent to Baghdad’s central market.
After asking a few shopkeepers we were directed to a narrow and crooked alleyway, known as alleyway 127. We walked for a while skipping over a thin stream of waste water.
This is one of Baghdad’s historic neighborhoods with crumbling brick homes. Many had Shanashils, the projecting oriel windows enclosed within carved wood latticework located on the second floor of a building or higher, and found in many ancient Arab capitals.
In front of the husseiniya I met Salah Qassim, 50, a carpenter and Alaa al-Khattat, 45, a sign maker. Both moonlight as members of the Abu Saifeen Awakening. They recounted their version of what happened earlier on Saturday.
On Saturday morning the leaders of the Abu Saifeen Awakening reopened the husseiniya for a neighborhood reconciliation meeting called for by the government’s reconciliation council.
They were only expecting tribal elders. So they were taken aback when the 20 elders showed up with 30 militia members, including six who were accused by residents of having committed countless crimes in the area.
The mood quickly soured, especially when one militia leader invoked Mr. Sadr. Things went downhill from there when the tribal elders said the militiamen were “refugees who should be allowed to return to the neighborhood.”
Word quickly spread in the neighborhood that Abu Saifeen’s former Mahdi Army leader was going to mount an attack to retake the area. Angry residents who were wronged by the militiamen rushed to the husseiniya.
“If they come back we will kill them with our own hands,” said Ahmed Haider, an 18-year-old blacksmith’s apprentice, who said the Mahdi Army raided his house last year and shot his brother and
sister-in-law in the legs.
Sensing that the charged situation had the potential to degenerate into an armed clash, the Awakening leaders told the sheiks and militiamen to leave.
Soon I was surrounded by dozens of residents with one claim or another against someone or another.
Walking away I pondered one particular word: reconciliation. American leaders keep exhorting the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to reconcile with Sunni Arabs, the “reconcilable” members of Saddam Hussein’s former Baath regime, etc. But much reconciliation remains to be done even among members of the same sect, in this case Shiite Muslims.
Six years into this war the sheer amount of reconciliation that has to take place is daunting. In addition to coming to grips with the past, almost every Iraqi family has been touched by what happened over the past few years. Many have lost loved ones in the sectarian bloodshed and many are not willing to forget or forgive.
Many still seek retribution either through the law or unilateral actions.
The Shiite Muslim’s, who are concentrated in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, clash with the Sunni has been at the heart of Islam since the groups first diverged after the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, and his followers could not agree on whether to choose bloodline successors or leaders most likely to follow the tenets of the faith.
The group now known as Sunnis chose Abu Bakr, the prophet’s adviser, to become the first successor, or caliph, to lead the Muslim state. Shiites favored Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali and his successors are called imams, who not only lead the Shiites but also are considered to be descendants of Muhammad. After the 11th imam died in 874, and his young son was said to have disappeared from the funeral, Shiites in particular came to see the child as a Messiah who had been hidden from the public by God.
The largest sect of Shiites, known as “twelvers,” have been preparing for his return ever since.
Not "until the ascendancy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1978" did they believe that they had once again begun to live under the authority of a legitimate religious figure. (and just how scary that was for the rest of the world and Iran we all know)
For Sunni Muslims, approximately 90 percent of the Muslim world, the loss of the caliphate after World War I was devastating in light of the hitherto continuous historic presence of the caliph, the guardian of Islamic law and the Islamic state. Sunni fundamentalist leaders thereafter emerged in nations such as Egypt and India, where contact with Western political structures provided them with a model awkwardly to imitate ... as they struggled after 1924 to provide a viable alternative to the caliphate.
What is important to remember, for this discussion, is that religions are run by men (for the most part Q, for the most part) and men can be avaricious, corrupt, victims to their own bullshit, and have a testosterone hunger for power and proving they are right. Having your hands on the joystick for any large organized religion makes it very tempting to remodel the world in the image you think fit – I give up Pope Benedict as example (just not so certain the holocaust happened. Excuse me?). Albeit he did retract - um yes...
Easy there boys this is not a rant against “men”, you well know you are my favourite people but rather organized religion (not spirituality, that can flourish in or out of organization) that forgets it is only divinely inspired – the chaps making the calls and writing the dogma are human and capable of grave error. As true for Christianity (the priest and the incidents of pedophilia) and the other major religions as it is for Islam.
As far as how this impacts the West politically – well that’s a long discussion eh? But we do need to stir the above thoughts into that pot. Nothing happens in a vacuum – not religion and not war. Sometimes you can not change people’s minds, and you then must get out of the way lest you, or someone’s else’s son or daughter, becomes a target. I''m just saying...