The Fallujah operation, however successful militarily, may prove to have an even greater psychological and political impact on the next stage of Iraq’s history.
For the first time, it was driven home to Iraqi Sunnis and al Qaeda leaders in the country that they had no one to count on for support if they chose to carry on fighting. Neither Iraqi Shiites nor Iran lifted a finger to save them from extinction in Fallujah, even though Iran maintains intelligence and paramilitary infrastructure in the vicinity of the battle arena.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iraq experts expect this realization to deepen the religious chasm in Iraq and water the seeds of Sunni-Shiite conflict. Iraqi Sunni leaders will have calculated that Tehran was moved to stay out by its fear of provoking a head-on confrontation with Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who broke up the alliance Muqtada Sadr forged between Shiite and Sunni guerrillas.
Iraq’s Sunni Muslim leaders are fully aware that fighting the Shiites would bring them in direct collision with the Shiite religious establishment that Sistani dominates.
The drawing of battle lines is clearly being urged on the Iraqi ex-Baath leaders by al Qaeda’s top man in Iraq. The audio tape Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi released Tuesday, November 16, called for action against American supply lines. But most of its content was devoted to a reckoning with the Shiite cleric who is frustrating Islamist-Baathist goals in Iraq.
On the tape, Zarqawi denounces Sistani as “the heretical imam” and applies to him the ancient Muslim term of Zandaka, meaning someone who destroys Islam from within. This is the most derogatory slur possible in Islamic terms against a cleric as highly revered as Sistani. Zarqawi’s message was sharp and to the point: this enemy of Islam must be removed.
Unlike al Qaeda, Iraqi ex-Baathists also plan to return to power.
Baathists plan alternative elections
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report Saddam Hussein‘s old Baath party plans to set up its own Iraqi interim government which will administer the country for two years until the Americans are chased out. Under their new master plan, free general elections will not take place in January but only after the departure of American troops. They are to be supervised by the Arab League and sympathetic foreign countries. The Baathists also propose to establish a new 150-member Shura – religious council – instead of the one that fell apart after most of its members were captured by the Americans. One of the council’s first tasks will be to write a new national constitution to supersede the statutes dating from the Saddam era.
The Baath initiative is a clear attempt to pre-empt the US-sponsored January 27 election and to take the lead in establishing government institutions. They are also signaling Sunnis that the Baath party has turned its back on Saddam’s autocratic and repressive style of rule. In other words, his corrupt dictatorship belongs to the past.
The Baathists are now rewriting their own and Iraq’s history.
In their book, the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars were American plots to conquer Iraq. Saddam and his administrations are described as too “innocent and naive” to grasp the real dangers facing the country. Saddam’s biggest failure, the Baath document claims, was his inability to break the US sanctions imposed through the United Nations. Iran is portrayed as a co-conspirator with America. Finally, the compilers of the plan call for the transposition of the “Baath resistance” against US forces to Shiite regions.
Our Iraq experts note that not all Baath leaders were Sunnis. Many top-ranking Shiite members of the military and secret security services belonged to the Baath party. Prime minister Iyad Allawi, for example, was a member of the party’s special units in his youth.
Iraqi Baath strategists today have come by different routes to the same conclusion as Zarqawi. Moving the anti-American guerrilla insurgency and terror campaigns to the Shiite regions has a good chance of foiling the emerging American strategy for Iraq’s future. Instead of being sidelined, the Sunnis will have a good chance of breaking up the Shiite-Kurdish pact threatening to crush them in the middle.