In the darkness of the early hours of this morning, the Adhamiya district in Baghdad blazed brightly in hues of orange and red as it was engulfed in the flames of sectarian saboteurs and terrorists. By the Shia-majority government’s own claims, sectarian Shia militias and terrorists led by Shia clerics attacked the Sunni neighbourhood, setting alight homes, businesses, property and local government buildings.
Adhamiya is a Sunni district on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and it is directly opposite the Shia district of Kadhimiya which lies on the western bank and connects to it via a bridge. As such, when Shia pilgrims go to visit the Kadhimiya shrine of Musa Al-Kadhim, the seventh of the Twelver Shia imams, Adhamiya is an oft-used route and even a place of safety for them. In 2005 when a stampede that killed 1,000 people occurred across the bridge connecting the two districts, the Adhmawis, as the people of Adhamiya are colloquially known, leapt to action to save the lives of their fellow countrymen after local Sunni mosques rallied their communities. Tragically, one young Adhmawi, Othman Abdulhafidh, died after saving many Shia pilgrims before succumbing to exhaustion.
In light of the above, and various other acts of Sunni solidarity against anti-Shia violence, one can only imagine the shock, terror and loss of hope that the people of Adhamiya must have felt when a convoy of armed sectarian thugs turned up in their district in the dead of the night. In what was supposed to be a peaceful night, many of the denizens of Adhamiya found their lives and livelihoods burned to ash. Videos uploaded to YouTube and aired on Iraqi television stations show how sectarian Shia mobs were celebrating as the Sunni Endowment building and other private residences are burned, with clerics shouting “For the love of Ali!” to the crowd. Chillingly, one reveller can be heard saying that there are women and children nearby, to which another thug responds, “They’re only Sunni women”.
This dehumanisation of Sunni Arabs is something that has been reported by human rights groups and researchers, but has very lightly been covered by the mainstream media. The Iraqi government routinely and systematically commits crimes against Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, and even as the tragedy in Adhamiya unfolded, security forces and personnel stood back and did nothing. Of greater concern is that this was occurring in the highly fortified Iraqi capital, and these outlaws were left unmolested by government forces as they carried banners aloft calling for vengeance against Adhmawis (no one knows for what) who were branded as ISIS members. This renders Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi’s denouncement as not only insulting to these Iraqi citizens, but also makes his “order” to the security forces to bring the perpetrators that he described as “terrorists” to justice as impotent if not disingenuous. His security forces were already in a position to protect Adhamiya, as they were deployed there ostensibly to protect Shia pilgrims visiting Musa Al-Kadhim’s shrine. Evidently, though, Sunni Arabs are not seen as Iraqi citizens and therefore not worthy of protection.
According to Al-Jazeera, the Shia clerics who accompanied the terrorists were riding in American Hummers, usually only available to government forces. One local reported that the inaction of the security forces was justified by claims that “a suicide bomber was supposed to have been in the area, and had escaped by hiding in between the houses [of Adhamiya]. This was just an excuse for them to attack the [Sunni Endowment] building and the houses around it.” Some 30 private residences were torched along with their vehicles; employees of the Sunni Endowment were reportedly still in the building when it was set alight.
As a final affront to the people of Adhamiya, as well as the international Sunni faithful, the Abu Hanifa Mosque, built in honour of one of the four main Sunni theologians and jurists, was also attacked. A statement released by the Iraqi Jurisprudence Council denounced the attacks on this Sunni landmark and the private property of citizens, and said: “The objective of these criminal acts are to light the fires of sectarianism and to empty Baghdad of its original inhabitants to change its demographics with the help and support of Iraq’s enemies.” This can only be assumed to be a veiled comment about Iranian support for sectarian Shia militias who have been committing sectarian murders and ethnic cleansing to push Sunnis out of their homes.
To counter such demographic change, Iraqi Vice President Osama Al-Nujaifi said that the people of Adhamiya should arm themselves to defend sacred sites and their property. He also added: “We cannot remain silent about what has happened [in Adhamiya], because it proves that there are a group of outlaws…intent on committing evil acts…not just against the people of Adhamiya but against Iraq as a whole.”
As a senior member of the Iraqi government, one would imagine that Al-Nujaifi would have instead made greater moves to pressure his colleagues in the government to allow greater cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic integration in the Iraqi military and police. Instead, he suggested that Adhmawis should arm themselves to protect themselves against further aggression, which is a damning admission from the heart of government that the political process has failed. Further ghettoising Iraqi society and cities is not a long-term solution to the sectarian plague engulfing the country, and is an apt demonstration of the Iraqi government’s enabling of sectarian strife.
The example of goodwill and neighbourliness demonstrated by Othman Abdulhafidh in 2005 is in danger of being extinguished forever by the terrorism of externally supported extremists such as the Iranian backed militias, takfiri terrorists such as ISIS, and the intransigence of the Iraqi government in making the Sunni Arabs equal partners with an equal say in the destiny of Iraq. Even the ties that bound normal citizens hailing from a variety of sects and ethnicities are being frayed by the divisive and subversive politics of the ruling elites and their partners in the continuing conspiracy against Iraqi unity, sovereignty and self-determination.
The continuing absence of a politics of national unity, justice and equality that has resulted from the granting of voice and agency to some segments of Iraqi society whilst silencing others will merely ensure that the tragedy of Iraq’s implosion continues.
Images: Tallha Abdulrazaq
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