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Fallujah's Friends By: Stephen Schwartz
Weekly Standard | Monday, April 19, 2004


WHY FALLUJAH? Why should this relatively obscure Iraqi city of half a million have become the crucible of atrocities against the Coalition in Iraq?

Some analysts say Fallujah was a stronghold of Baathist sympathy. The reality is rather different. The al-Jumaili clan, which is a leading force in the area, produced two pre-Saddam presidents of Iraq, the brothers Abd as-Salaam Arif, who ruled from 1963 to 1966, and Abd ar-Rahman Arif, whose tenure lasted from 1966 to 1969. The first died in a suspicious aerial accident, and the second was driven from power, and then from Iraq, by the Baathists under Saddam.

The al-Jumailis have a long memory, and the downfall of the Arif brothers fostered a blood feud between the powerful tribal sheikhs and Saddam, so that when Coalition troops appeared in Iraq the al-Jumaili sheikhs ordered their followers not to interfere with them. That, at least, is the version told by al-Jumaili representatives in the United States, who decline to be identified in the media.

But the al-Jumailis now claim that tensions with the Coalition began with U.S. military raids on their strongholds soon after Saddam's fall. A San Francisco Chronicle report in late 2003 quoted Sheikh Mishkhen al-Jumaili denouncing U.S.-inflicted fatalities in the area. Reporter Anna Badkhen added, "Important members of the community, like al-Jumaili, went from being supportive of the U.S.-led alliance to being openly anti-American."

A more significant ingredient in the stewpot of Fallujah's discontent, however, is local adherence to Wahhabism, the extremist Islamic sect that is the state religion in neighboring Saudi Arabia and whose purest expression is al-Qaeda. Here and there, Western journalists have alluded to this; an Associated Press report noted that of the residents of Fallujah, "many adhere to Sunni Islam's austere Wahhabi sect." Wahhabi militants in Kuwait and other nearby states have begun collecting money, blood, and supplies to sustain the conflict. Even in the United States, some leaders of the "Wahhabi lobby" that dominates American Islam declared their solidarity with the "resistance" in Fallujah.

Wahhabi sympathies complicated Fallujah's relationship with Saddam's regime, which mainly repressed the Wahhabis, but also used them against Muslims in Kurdistan. Rahul Mahajan, publisher of an anti-American weblog titled "Empire Notes," admitted the Wahhabi connection to Fallujah on April 7, politely denoting the fanatics by the camouflage term they prefer, "Salafis." Mahajan wrote, "Many inhabitants were Salafists (Wahhabism is a subset of Salafism), a group singled out for political persecution by Saddam." Wahhabis use "Salafi" the same way extreme leftists have used "progressive."

But where Wahhabis or Salafis go, Saudis are never far behind. Some Western scribes have noted the presence of Saudis among the foreign fighters in Fallujah. At the beginning of April, as reported on the Saudi opposition website www.arabianews.com, the supreme mufti, or top religious leader of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Abd al-Aziz bin Abd-Allah Aal ash-Shaikh, a descendant of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi cult, publicly called on the kingdom's Muslims to "send hundreds of fighters to participate in the ongoing battle in Fallujah."

The mufti's appeal was followed by prayers in numerous Saudi mosques for "destruction of the Jews and the Christians," with cries of "O Allah, destroy them! O Allah, disperse them! O Allah, support the fighters in Iraq! O Allah, grant them aid!" Media in the kingdom that had previously praised Saudis for going to Iraq to fight the Coalition and the Shias -- hated by the Wahhabis as alleged heretics -- exultantly reported that numerous Saudis had transferred their activities to Falluja.

In addition, Saudi government media encouraged the kingdom's subjects to hurry across the border. The official newspaper al-Riyadh used its front page to praise the terrorists in Fallujah, describing them as "creating an epic chapter of combat against the American military invaders."

The consequence? On April 12, a Riyadh resident, Fahed al-Razni al-Shimmeri, reported that his son Majed, aged 25 and a student, had become "a martyr... in resisting the American forces' aggression in Fallujah," according to the website Middle East Online. The son was said to have left for the jihad in Iraq just a month after the overthrow of Saddam. He was only the latest of many Saudi "martyrs" in Iraq to be eulogized in his homeland.

But Wahhabi interference with the Coalition has not been limited to Fallujah. A Salafi presence became obvious in Baghdad itself when a major mosque in the capital was renamed for Ibn Taymiyyah, the 13th-century inspirer of the later Wahhabi movement. The mosque quickly became a center of Wahhabi agitation against the Coalition.

What to do, then, about Fallujah? The brief "rebellion" of the upstart Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr appears to be collapsing like a balloon. But Fallujah may become the "Jenin" of Iraq. That is, like the Palestinian community that in 2002 served as a pretext for false atrocity charges against Israel, Falluja is emerging as a rallying point for those hoping to accuse the Coalition in Iraq of wholesale violations of human rights. The desecrated dead who thrust Fallujah into the consciousness of every American are already forgotten by many beyond our borders.

In Iraq, efforts are being made to bluff Americans, and the world, into seeing an incipient civil war, or a "resistance" to foreign incursion, rather than the reality of the situation: an aggression by al-Qaeda, supported by the Wahhabi hardliners in Saudi Arabia, who loathe the idea of a Shia-led democracy in Iraq.

If we are to prevent a repetition of the ghastly brutalities inflicted on the Coalition in Fallujah, and if we are to protect the Shia, Kurds, and other non-Wahhabi Sunnis in Iraq against terrorism, there are two obvious steps we can take: First, seal the Saudi-Iraqi border, to shut off the northward flow of Wahhabi combatants. Second, tell the Saudi rulers in no uncertain terms that preaching jihad in Iraq, and collecting money, blood, and supplies for it, must stop.


Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, is author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. A vociferous critic of Wahhabism, Schwartz is a frequent contributor to National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.


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