Baghdad — If Sunni clerics are a window into the soul of the violent resistance to U.S. aims in Iraq, the picture they reveal could not be bleaker.
For Sheikh Mohammad Ali Mohammad al-Ghereri, a Sunni Muslim cleric, the question is no longer whether his followers should fight the Americans — that is a given — but how to wage the war properly.
“The holy warriors should have a clerical leader with them to advise them on all points, such as how to properly treat the Americans they capture,” he said just days before militants beheaded two American hostages.
And then we are supposed to believe that these “militants” are not treating the captives according to the dictates of Islamic law.
For Sunni cleric Abdul Sattar Abdul Jabbar, the question is no longer whether his followers should kidnap foreigners, but which ones.
“Isn’t the trucker who brings supplies for the Americans and helps the occupation also part of the occupation? I think so,” said Abdul Jabbar, a member of the Association of Muslim Clerics, the country’s largest Sunni religious group.
Although Sunni religious authorities — including the sect’s highest authority, Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar University in Cairo — have condemned the beheading of captives, they have no such qualms about advocating violent warfare, including kidnappings and suicide bombings, in the battle to vanquish the Americans and their Iraqi allies.
Among Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, the United States can count on a few high-ranking moderate clerics to counter rabble-rousing preacher Muqtada al- Sadr’s incendiary calls for holy war. But among the ulema — the clerical leadership guiding Sunnis, who make up about a third of the Iraqi population – – calls for armed opposition to the United States have become increasingly strident.
“There is no discussion,” says Imam Mahdi al-Sumaydai, a high-ranking Sunni cleric who was jailed for six months by the Americans for his inflammatory teachings. “Jihad is a must in the religion to defend your property, your honor or your religion. How can anyone deny our right to jihad?”
On the streets, the calls for jihad by clerics are rising and spreading into the mainstream. Young people are turning to popular media to learn more about the long-standing Islamic tradition of jihad — a holy war waged to protect one’s people or one’s land. Videos of armed mujahedeen battling Americans sell briskly at CD shops and in bazaars. At Internet cafes, young people scan jihadi Web sites for news.