Today, my first full day in Amman, Jordan started off sharply. I met the most important person I will meet during this trip. And I was the first American he has agreed to meet with.
This in itself shows that the winds are slowly changing as he himself pointed out during our conversation.
This meeting required a suit and very good manners. I practiced the custom of holding your hand to your heart and saying: Assalamu Alaikum (Peace be with you). (Note: If someone says this to me, my response is “Wa Alaikum Assalam,” Upon you be Peace.) I've been asked to hold off releasing his name until I have finished meeting some other people because they might not want to meet me if they knew. Thus, I will simply call him the Sheik and tell you he has influence over the Resistance.
Unfortunately I was not allowed to videotape or even record the conversation. Since my mission is to introduce Americans to other voices in Iraq, that meant I spent the entire time furiously writing down exactly what he said.
“The Problem Is the Occupation”
The Sheik wasted no time to get to his point. The problem is the occupation, he said. The American Administration should have left as soon as they discovered there were no chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction. But they continued the error – for the protection of Israel. There was an imagined danger that the Iraqi Army posed a threat to Israel.
(My note: Is this why Bremer sent the Iraqi Army home? A complaint of every Iraqi I have heard from since last August. )
The Sheik explained that the occupation continued because of arrogance and stubbornness. This lead to all the losses suffered by both the Iraqis and the Americans. Iran profited from it.
Is There a Civil War?
I asked him whether a civil war was now raging in Iraq. He said that the Iraqi people were pushed to have a civil war since the occupation. In the past two years, the American Administration, with Zalmay Khalilzad involved, pushed this. The leaders of the Shia and Kurdish groups – not the Kurdish people – pushed this.
They followed the idea of divide and rule through the political parties. This was political sectarianism, not religious sectarianism. These people manipulated ignorant, simple people.
“What leaders,” I asked.
The Sheik said, “The leaders of the Badr and Dawa political parties. The Jafari and Maliki governments promoted this. It was the Bahdi, Mehdi, and Dawa militias.
He went on.
The majority of people, Sunni, Shia and Kurd – 80 percent of them - don't want this occupation. Nor do they want this government (My note: Maliki). They are fed up with the militias. The sectarian militias do not represent the Shia. Now there is a problem in the south of Iraq. Arab Shia are fighting the Safawids (My note: Persian Shia) who are backed by Iran.
I asked about al-Qaeda's role in this.
The Sheik said that al-Qaeda does not represent the Iraqi National Resistance. Only 10% of the resistance is al-Qaeda. The Iraqi Resistance is temporary. Its only aim is to liberate Iraq. There is no aim to rule Iraq. As to the Americans, al-Qaeda exists to resist Americans anywhere in the world. If the occupation ends, al-Qaeda will leave. Al-Qaeda is refused by Iraqis.
(My note: As many of us know, the bombing of the Great Mosque of Samarra last February ignited Shia/Sunni sectarian strife in Iraq. I heard all sorts of rumors about this and personally concluded it must have been al-Qaeda who was interested in promoting civil war among the Iraqis.)
Calmly, the Sheik said that al-Qaeda and the National Resistance are not guilty as the wolf was not guilty of devouring Joseph, the son of Jacob. He went on to say that the Jafari Government, through the Ministry of Interior perpetrated this attack, headed then by Bayan Jabber (My note: Whom everyone I've heard from accuses of having allegiance to Iran). The aim was to cause sectarian strife to start civil war. This bombing was a highly professional job. After the explosion, the Minister of Housing declared it would take 10 hours to set it up. He sees Iran in the background of this project. He said Iran played this same game in 1996. They exploded the Ridha Shrine in Mash'had to stir up people against each other.
The Sheik confirmed to me something I had heard before. The first journalist to arrive at the scene was a young woman named Atwar Bahjat. She videotaped it. She was killed on the way out of Samarra that day and the suspected murderers were people from the Ministry of Interior of the Jafari Government. They kept her body for two days. The explosion was Wednesday and they buried her on Saturday. Despite the fact that the family did not want any protection from the Ministry of Interior for the burial, they were told they had no say in the matter. Her coffin was accompanied by soldiers and armored cars.
I was somewhat dismayed to hear this story because our government supported the Jafari Government back then.
What Will Happen If We Leave?
I pressed him with the question: “Will there be a civil war should Americans leave?” He answered that there would be no civil war and continued, ”was there a civil war when you left Vietnam? No.”
I said: “You said that al-Qaeda was not involved in the bombing of the Great Mosque of Samarra. Isn't al-Qaeda fomenting civil war in Iraq?” I have heard of them driving through mixed villages shooting at both sides of the car.
The Sheik said that all Iraqis oppose al-Qaeda. The cards being played in this game are mixed. There are a lot of players. The interests are clashing. Iraq will not clear up unless the Occupation is ended. When al-Qaeda attacks a local market, they attack because there are army personnel or police present who are approved by the Maliki government or by Americans.
I asked if he was seeking an immediate withdrawal. He said, “We wish the Americans to leave today, before tomorrow. But if the Americans don't want to leave this way because it would be degrading to them, the best way is to announce a scheduled withdrawal. Then build a new strong Iraq Army to take the place of the currently made army and the militias. The present army has no loyalty to Iraq. It is not concerned with the good of the people or security. For this reason the advantage for both of us is for the Americans to have honor and leave behind a strong Iraq Army that imposes security.”
A New Iraqi Army
I thought for a moment, understanding that this isn't done simply. I remember asking Lee Hamilton if he thought bringing the Iraqi Army back was a good solution. He said that it would take forever, since you would have to vet every one of the returning soldiers.
“How do you build a stronger Army?” I asked the Sheik.
He said that if we were serious that doing so would be very possible and easy. “Contact Mohammed (al-Dynee) and the army will be built from the old Iraq Army.”
I asked whether the army would need amnesty from the Americans. He said no, it was let go by Bremer.
The Sheik continued: The old Iraq army has 250,000 soldiers who presently are fighting the American troops. Yes, there are secret talks between the Iraq Army and the Resistance going on right now. The Resistance and old army do not think the talks are serious. If they (my note: the U.S.) want to start building a new army, they should take the security ministries into their own hands, appoint the old Iraq commanders, and give them the freedom to bring back the professional Iraqi soldiers. They are excellent officers – including Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Turkamen, Yazids, etc.
He went on. If the Americans don't want to supply the Army, then allow the Arabs states to arm it.
"The Beginning of the Solution"
I asked whether doing this would mean that the American Administration was interfering with the Iraqi government. He laughed. (I guess he meant, “What's new and why not?”) He said, “This is the beginning of the solution.”
I've been concentrating on ending the violence in Iraq and wondered aloud if it would be a good first step be to make sure that the prisons in Iraq were secure, that prisoners would not be tortured and killed in the jails. He said yes.
I asked about the U.S. withdrawing its support of the Maliki government and wondered if they did whether the Parliament would replace it. The Sheik said, “You would still have the militias and no solution. You must change the direction of the winds to stop the bloodshed. The Maliki government is not serious about changing American dependence or Iraqi reconciliation.”
He also noted that the Parliament is a forced one. Eleven of the members are Iranian. There are governorates not represented by a single member of Parliament. Their votes went to the Shia alliance. "God forbid the U.S. was occupied. Would you support elections held during this occupation?” he asked.
The Role of Parliament
I asked him about members of Parliament who never attend the meetings since Mohammed had told me that there are those who don't go, who still get their salaries. Some have not even pledged their oath. There are 70 or so outside the country who don't go because the government terrorizes them. The Sheik said that some of Maliki's government officials paid for their appointments and added that some have no education.
"Don't you need the Parliament?” I asked.
The Sheik said that the Iraqis don't recognize the legality of the political process. But since they want to solve the problems, there are three possible solutions:
- The Americans leave and Iraqis will settle their own problems.
- There is a military coup.
- You change the government through the Parliament.
I objected to the idea of a military coup and he said that he was not advocating for it, but just explaining the options.
He went on to discuss working through the Parliament. Some of his suggestions included:
- Scaling down the government's authority;
- Balancing the authority of the President and Prime Minister;
- Security would be the responsibility of the people who created the National Army, which would get rid of the militias.
The Sheik then said, “We (My note: I assume he was speaking for the Resistance) will have nothing to do with this. We will help by giving advice and putting pressure on people to cooperate,” which I took to mean stop shooting at American soldiers.
I then asked if he could help Parliament meet securely. He quickly responded that the American Administration has the power to order them to meet and is able to provide them security. He said, “I have no authority over the Parliament.”
I then suggested what Senator Chuck Hagel's advisor asked Mohammed to suggest when we visited with him two weeks ago: “Couldn't the Parliament decide not to take a vacation?” He repeated, “If the American Administration demands they meet, they will meet.”
I suggested to him the solution cannot be solved with the same process that caused the problem. I doubt at this point that anyone in America -- particularly the newly elected Democrats -- wants the Administration to be interfering in the elected government of Iraq. Mohammed answered this. The Parliament can be made to work. Maliki has to stop terrorizing the members who are opponents.
The Sheik went on to observe that he is convinced that the American Administration wants the Maliki government to continue. (My note: maybe, but not with Maliki in charge. The Sheik said there attempts have been made to build a coalition against Maliki and the American Administration told the organizers to stop.)
He then told me that he has heard of unofficial quotations from American officials that two days ago the decision was made to leave Iraq. But now we hear Bush and Gates talking about America staying for an indefinite time as they did in South Korea.
How the Resistance Works
I then tried my naïve pitch: “Why don't you do something unexpected? Bush and Cheney are locked into their decision to stay. Do something they don't expect, such as calling for a cease-fire against the American soldiers. Have a Gandhi moment for Iraq. The American people will surely notice this.”
The Sheik explained to me how the Resistance works. He said that we (My note: I assume Resistance Leaders) cannot do anything unless the Americans announce a plan to leave.
He explained that we had destroyed a complete country and occupied it, causing the death of over a million Iraqis and creating six million refugees who are now outside the country. He said, “You wasted our money and the oil revenues we lost while you were here. I cannot stop the Resistance. It is the Iraqi people rising up from the ground, not led from the top.”
The Sheik's spokesperson who was with in the room said, “If the sun goes down the day ends. If the occupation is over, the violence will end.”
Then the Sheik said, “We can only help call others to calm things down if the American Administration announces a schedule to withdraw.”
This was a long grueling meeting. We were there for three hours. I brought up Iran.
He said, “Understand Iran interferes in Iraq economically, politically, and has aims in Iraq. Iran claims that it wishes the occupation to end; in truth, it does not want it.”
He explained that Iran wants Americans to be mired down in Iraq, to always be busy with the problems in Iraq. The meeting that took place recently between the Ambassador of Iran and the U.S. in Baghdad did not have any good results. He said that he didn't believe that Iran would ever do anything to bring security to Iraq. The Iraqi people were not represented at this meeting, he said, noting that what made the Iraqi people angrier is that in fact they met in Baghdad, in the capital of Iraq.
I suggested that he be careful: ”You don't want to give Cheney any excuses to bomb Iran.”
He said that Bush and Cheney are not concerned about Iran. And when the Americans sit with them, they make Iran more important. The Iranians came in because of the American occupation. America is dependent on people connected strongly with Iran.
The Iraqi Oil Law
The Sheik said that a few days ago a British reporter asked, ”Why didn't you pass the oil law? America wants you to pass it at any price.”
The Sheik explained that if Parliament passed the oil law, the Resistance would attack the members of Parliament. Every one of them would be in danger. He said, “We know the American Administration will pressure Parliament to pass this law. A member of the U.S. Congress met with Mashadani (My note: the Iraq Parliament's Speaker). He told the member that the Iraq people think you only want the oil and they are frightened.”
The Sheik concluded our meeting by observing that the American Administration depended on no one except for a small number of people who have no loyalty to anything except to their own self-interest. They have no care about hurting the Iraqi people or the American people. They have no support of Iraq. They belong to a few political parties – two Shia and two Kurdish. They have misled the American Administration.
I asked whether I had his permission to tell his story directly to the American people. He said yes. And I asked if he would be willing to meet me again on my return from Baghdad? Yes.
Do I now understand how important it is that America give a signal that says it does not plan to stay in Iraq indefinitely? Yes.
By Dal LaMagna
Dal is running as a Democrat in the 2008 Presidential Primaries.
For the past several years, Dal has been a progressive activist concentrating on stopping the violence against U.S. troops and Iraqis in Iraq. He is an executive producer of three feature length Iraq War movies: The Ground Truth , The War Tapes , and Iraq For Sale
Dal ran for U.S. Congress twice in the 3rd Congressional District in New York as the Democratic and Green candidate in 1996 and 2000, respectively and is currently running for President in the 2008 Democratic Primary. During the 2006 federal elections, Dal served as an active chair of Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell's re-election campaign.
Dal received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1971 and his master's in public administration in 2002 from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government where he was named a Littauer Fellow.
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