Bloomberg: Sunni Muslims refugees from one of Iraq’s most violent towns, with an eye toward possible U.S. policy changes after Tuesday’s congressional elections, say America ought to drop its war on insurgents and focus on battling Iran’s growing influence in their country.
By Daniel Williams
Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) — Sunni Muslims refugees from one of Iraq’s most violent towns, with an eye toward possible U.S. policy changes after Tuesday’s congressional elections, say America ought to drop its war on insurgents and focus on battling Iran’s growing influence in their country.
“It’s a useless tug of war in Ramadi,” said Jalal Gaoud, 38, a contractor who, like many of his fellow townspeople, has taken refuge in neighboring Jordan. “It’s a waste for everyone, while Iran harvests the spoils.”
The refugees say fighting in Ramadi is at a stalemate. Streets sometimes change hands by the hour between U.S. Marines and masked rebel gunmen. U.S. forces wary of ground operations have turned increasingly to air assaults, while residents who navigate city streets face surprise sniper attacks by all sides.
While such inconclusive battles rage, Sunni refugees in Jordan say, Iran is taking control of much of the country through Shiite Muslim surrogates. In Iraq, where civil war competes with the violence of the anti-U.S. battle, Iran’s connection to Shiites is a live topic; it has been only a small part of the debate in the U.S., where surveys show dissatisfaction over the war endangers President Bush’s Republican majority in Congress.
“It’s not surprising,” said Jamaal al-Jubouri, a university student. “If the Americans cannot win in Ramadi, they certainly can’t control all of Iraq.”
He spoke in Amman, Jordan, where about 400,000 Iraqis have taken refuge from Baghdad as well as from central and western Iraq, according to Jordanian Interior Ministry estimates. Another 400,000 are estimated to be in Syria.
Ramadi, which lies along the Euphrates River 70 miles west of Baghdad, has become a hodgepodge of contending anti-U.S. Sunni militias, the Iraqis say, including terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. Sunni refugees say they fear the Iranians at least as much as the U.S., and they are ready to accept the U.S. as a balance and to turn against al-Qaeda.
“Iraqi insurgents would oppose al-Qaeda if they felt safe from the Shiites and Iran,” said Raad al-Dulaimi, 49, a former traffic policeman. “But they see that the Americans bow to the Shiites.” He noted that the U.S. last month lifted a blockade of the Shiite Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad, controlled by the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. “Do the Americans think that Shiites are their friends? Think again. They’re happy you’re tied up.”
“We wish to have a strategic alliance with the United States,” added Zeidan al-Awad, 45, who said he heads the Boujaber tribe, one of several large clans in Anbar province, which includes Ramadi.
Ramadi is a fully Sunni town, but as sectarian killings increased elsewhere in Iraq, fear of Shiites has grown among Sunnis everywhere. Shiites are Iraq’s majority religious grouping and are largely impoverished. Two factions of the U.S.-backed ruling coalition, al-Sadr’s group and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, are also supported by Iran.
Sunnis long dominated the country until the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, who fought a vicious eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s.
Hussein, 69, was sentenced to death by hanging yesterday for his role in the killing of 148 Shiite Muslims in the northern Iraqi village of Dujail following an attempt on his life there in 1982.
Fed Up With Chaos
U.S. military leaders and the Iraqi government have occasionally tried to forge an alliance with Sunni clan leaders in Anbar whose influence transcends political affiliation. There are signs that some tribes are fed up with the chaos. Last week, a group of tribal leaders called the Anbar Salvation Front pledged to fight foreign al-Qaeda operatives. An Islamist Web site purported to belong to an Iraqi Islamic group claimed that its members killed four al-Qaeda operatives at a mosque in late September.
Appeasing Sunni rebels has a harsh history. In May 2004, U.S. military leaders agreed to turn over the town of Fallujah, 20 miles southeast of Ramadi, to former Saddam-era soldiers. The force quickly gave way to masked rebels and members of al-Qaeda. In November 2004, U.S. forces invaded Fallujah to clear it of insurgents.
Soon after, Ramadi became a focal point of rebel activity; fighting there has gone on ever since. On Oct. 19, rebels held a parade in Ramadi to proclaim the establishment of an Islamic state. About a third of the 105 U.S. fatalities in Iraq last month occurred in Anbar province.
Still, the battle in Ramadi goes on. Its three main streets — known by the names of July 17th, Cinema and Showroom — are no-man’s land. “Whoever steps out on any of them can be dead in a second,” said Ahmed Jamil, 32, a schoolteacher.
Electric power is sporadic. Schools rarely open; the local university is closed. Workers rush home before sunset. Residents rely on local mom-and-pop stores rather than traverse the city street to market. “No one is really in control of Ramadi,” said al-Dulaimi, the traffic policeman.
He described his effort over three days to obtain school records for his children. On Oct. 23, he tried to cross the bridge into town, and a roadside bomb went off. The next day, he ran into a gunfight on July 17th Street, hid for four hours and went home. The next, when Marines shot up a side street just as he passed by, he gave up. “That’s the reality and that is why I am here in Jordan,” he said.