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Iraq: "There is ethnic cleansing"
Mutahana Hareth Al-Dari, spokesman of the influential Iraqi Association of Muslim Scholars, tells Amira Howeidy that the time has come for everyone, including Sunnis, to arm themselves
As Iraq falls near to the abyss of civil war, a security clampdown on the Iraqi Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) twice this week went almost unnoticed. On Monday, US forces supported by other unidentified armed groups raided the headquarters of the influential and largely Sunni Association and arrested two of its main leaders.
Al-Ahram Weekly caught up with the AMS's spokesman, Mutahana Hareth Al-Dari, 37, during a visit to Cairo where he was putting the final touches on the soon-to-be-launched AMS satellite channel Al-Rafedein (Mesopotamia) to be based in Cairo. During the interview, Al-Dari cautiously avoided adopting what could be interpreted as a sectarian discourse but argued that there are forms of ethnic cleansing occurring in Iraq.
The Washington Post reported that 1300 Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, were killed in the violence that erupted following the blast in Al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra. Has the civil war started in Iraq?
No. God willing, it won't start. There are attempts to ignite a civil war.
How then do you describe what's happening in Iraq? What's a civil war if this isn't one?
There were prospects of a civil war but they were contained. But the fire will remain underneath the ashes. The forces that were behind the recent crisis will work on igniting it again. Civil war will begin when some forces lose their conscious awareness; I mean the forces which are armed with patience and who endure pain rather than slip into fitna (civil strife). When that happens there will be civil war. But thank God, they chose the general interest of the people over personal interest.
As for the number of Iraqis killed in the past week, the AMS already announced that the death toll exceeds 300. This was confirmed today when the general manager of Al-Teb Adli hospital and its morgue said they have 329 bodies. Then of course there are tens of bodies that were buried by their families before they reached the morgue. So we're actually talking about approximately 400. The 1300 figure is an exaggeration, a way to pour fuel to the fire. A death toll of 400 is not a small figure either.
Reports from Iraq Tuesday said that Sunnis from across Iraq are sending or preparing to send weapons to Baghdad to protect Sunnis and their mosques. Can you confirm this? Do the Sunnis need to be armed?
This need has existed for a long time now. Long before the recent violence, the current government and the security apparatus unfortunately exercised many forms of terrorism against citizens ... There have been detentions and murders, en masse, of many citizens, mostly Sunni, who were taken from their homes at night. So the danger is not new. It's ongoing. The difference this time is that in the past, no one could defend himself because carrying or possessing a weapon was a crime. The occupation forces together with the security forces would conduct their night raids and no one could do anything about it. But after the brutal attack of security forces in daylight against [Sunni] mosques, it is the duty of everyone to defend themselves.
I think that recent events proved to the whole world that there is state violence against many Iraqis. So now it's justifiable and totally reasonable that one defends oneself by any and all means necessary.
The Mahdi army of Moqtada Al-Sadr, and the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Badr organisation, the death squads and such Shia militias, have been exposed recently for their violence against Sunnis. And even during the curfew earlier this week, they roamed the streets freely, terrorising the population and committing more violence and killings. How does the AMS deal with this?
There are security organisations that are affiliated with the current government. Then there are partisan militias that are associated with and have infiltrated these security organisations to serve a political role. It was these militias and the security forces that targeted civilians in the past week.