AMMAN: Sheikh Hareth al-Dari rarely makes media appearances these days, but as a long-term opponent of U.S. military presence in Iraq, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and jihadist groups, the prominent religious scholar still has plenty of insight into the current crisis in his homeland. Now living in Amman, the leader of the largest Sunni religious body in Iraq, the Association of Muslim Scholars, is highly critical of both Maliki’s beleaguered Dawa Party and the fledgling Islamic caliphate led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Hailing from a prominent Anbar family and at the heart of Iraq’s political scene for many years, Dari is widely known for his vocal rejection of Al-Qaeda’s sectarian tactics after the U.S. invasion, despite his anger at the occupation, which prompted claims of ties with the controversial Sahwa movement.
When The Daily Star interviewed him in the Jordanian capital, where due to ill health he now works as a teacher at a number of Islamic universities, Dari said he did not believe Maliki’s replacement by Haider al-Abadi would do much to alleviate feelings of Sunni marginalization and disenfranchisement.
Instead, he called on regional powers to take an active role in promoting serious dialogue between sectarian groups in the country.
Q: Why did people in some parts of Iraq fight against Maliki’s rule? And are groups trying to force Iraq down a dark tunnel and divide it into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish provinces?
A: What is happening in Iraq is a people’s revolution that broke out against the criminal practices of Maliki and his Dawa Party. It is being fought by the Iraqi people against sectarian despotism. Since Maliki assumed his position as prime minister in 2006, he has used his power to work against Sunni people and cited terrorism as a justification for his actions. He put many men and women in prison, while killing and displacing others. He has taken advantage of people in six governorates who continually demonstrated peacefully to demand their rights.
Demonstrators were subjected to bloody crackdowns, particularly in al-Huwayjah, Al-Sariya Mosque in Baqouba and Fallujah. Al-Izza Wal Karama [Pride and Dignity] Square in Anbar was also attacked Dec. 30, 2013 so the there residents defended themselves in confrontations that lasted several days, which sparked a wide revolution that is ongoing today.
It’s a revolution of an oppressed people, whose rights have been confiscated for more than 10 years, whose sons’ blood has been spilled and whose privacy has been violated.
Despite what the Dawa Party is trying to portray to the outside world, this revolution is not against any sect or any part of the Iraqi people.
This issue of sectarianism is important for the whole region. It will undoubtedly put Iraq in a dark tunnel and endanger many Iraqis.
Q: Why did the army collapse so rapidly in Sunni provinces? And have some soldiers joined the rebels?
A: Many issues led to the rapid collapse. One of the biggest problems is the army’s abnormal structure after the occupation. It essentially combines party militias and other groups that are linked to the government. Also, there is the question of morale and combat readiness. The army was very drained after the battles in Anbar last year, which were subsequently soon followed by the significant defeat [by ISIS] in Mosul.
Q: After Maliki’s resignation and the appointment of Abadi, do you think it is possible that a new political initiative could emerge that would prevent civil war? Are you in contact with Iraqi political forces to discuss ways out of the crisis?
A: From where I stand, I don’t see that there are any feasible political initiatives to find a way out of this crisis. The origins of the strife remain unsolved. Regardless of the details, the overall direction of political operations in Iraq has not changed. The appointment of the new prime minister came about because of an agreement between the two top players in Iraq – the U.S. and Iran. The rules of the game remain the same.
When we attend conferences to discuss the future of our country, the lack of commitment from political leaders to instigate meaningful change is always clear. We [AMS] believe that to end the political deadlock there needs to be fresh elections and a transitional government to manage the country, as well as support from regional powers.
The consequences of the U.S. occupation are at the heart of the problems today.
Q: Has Mosul been supportive of ISIS after Baghdadi announced his caliphate there?
A: The group [ISIS] do have some support in Mosul, but the reality is changing all the time. Iraq is a state of flux so events are subject to change.
Q: What is your position on the announcement of the caliphate?
A: The group [AMS] has shown its position in a special statement about the caliphate. In it we said that just by announcing an Islamic state does not mean the state will succeed. If it does not implement the basic structure of a state, particularly when it comes to people’s vital daily needs, it will fail. Their state is not legally binding, which makes it completely illegitimate and unreal.