Taliban leader Mullah Omar, one of America’s most wanted, would love it: it’s the new Kandahar, the Afghan city that was once the Taliban stronghold. Under Sharia (Islamic) law: Fallujah is now totally under the control of the Sunni Iraqi resistance and their emirs (chieftains). More than 10,000 mujahideen armed to their teeth rule more than 500,000 people, just 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.
Writers and professors in Baghdad with close family and tribal ties to Fallujah have explained to Asia Times Online the new order. In today’s Fallujah, every military commander is an emir. They may be strident, conservative Salafis, philosophical Sufis, al-Qaeda admirers, former Ba’ath Party army officials, former secret-service agents, or even the average neighbor, a father of six.
If you qualify as an emir, you are a leading member of what is popularly described as “the Iraqi resistance” in control of “liberated Fallujah”, a region off-limits to US troops ever since the United States handed over control of the city in May after a month-long siege.
Along with local imams and tribal chiefs, all emirs are also part of a Shura, a mujahideen council, created last winter and directed by two imams, Abdallah Janabi and Dhafer al-Ubeidi.
These imams may be considered the spiritual leaders of the resistance in Fallujah. Janabi, from the Saad bin Abi Wakkas Mosque, is a true radical: he is the leader of the takfiris – the fiercest warriors, some Iraqi, some from other Arab countries, some voluntary, some linked to Arab groups. Janabi was the first imam in 2003 to call for armed resistance against the occupation of Iraq, and for the summary execution of spies. Dhafer, from the al-Hadra al-Muhammadiya mosque, is a senior to Janabi in the Shura. His fatwas (religious edicts) carry enormous influence.
Fallujah is mujahideen country: it is where the resistance undertakes military training, hides weapons, contacts foreign fighters and organizes operations against a variety of targets in and around Baghdad. A selected group of mujahideen work as couriers between mosques in Fallujah and Baghdad. Many mujahideen are boys who started their military training in early 2002. Some went as far as becoming experts on modified Sidewinder missiles now used as shoulder-fired rockets.
The mujahideen paint a picture of a city where Sharia law may be the norm, but the air hangs heavy with paranoia – just as it did in Taliban Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The city may now be free of marines, but is under an informal siege by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s new secret-service agents and Central Intelligence Agency operatives. These spies are executed the minute any of the emirs identify them. The emirs parade around town in luxury Western cars with tinted windows, just like the Taliban with their Toyota Land Cruisers did in Afghanistan.
An undeclared “foreigner-hunting season” is in effect. It has claimed, among other victims, a Lebanese businessman, the South Korean national Kim Sun-il, and six Shi’ite truck drivers. Janabi justifies all the executions. During the past three months, the mujahideen have also executed more than 30 Fallujah residents, all of them denounced as spies for the Americans.
Sharia law applies to the 500,000 Iraqis living in Fallujah and its surroundings. On a stretch of the busy Fallujah-Ramadi road, the local unemployed youth used to hang out drinking beer or whisky and talking about soccer and girls. After their de facto victory against the marines in April, the mujahideen took over the stretch and paraded some youngsters around the city taking a beating in the back of a pickup truck, Taliban style, just to show how things had changed.
“Allah’s decrees” are splashed all over Fallujah. They warn against every foreigner, forbid alcohol and threaten any women not wearing the abaya (veil) or tempted to apply some counterfeit foreign perfume over their unveiled faces. Hairdressers and ordinary Iraqis trying to make ends meet by selling compact discs also received a mujahideen visit.
By intimidation, by the force of arms and with full support of the mosques, Fallujah, unlike Baghdad, is now a haven of order and security, just like Kabul and Kandahar in the late 1990s at the height of the Taliban rule. Americans are out. Their two bases are in Saqlawiyah, a small town near Fallujah: Qa’idat al-Bayt, in the eastern part of the town, and Qa’idah ad-Dahhamiyah, in the western part. The resistance fires rockets at these bases almost daily, in response to US air raids that usually kill dozens of Iraqi civilians. The Americans – with Allawi’s backing – keep hitting Fallujah with one-ton bombs.
The four Blackwater employees shot, cremated and suspended from a bridge in April led to American hell raining over Fallujah (and to more than 600 Iraqi civilian deaths). The Americans then created a so-called brigade of former Ba’athists to provide security to the city. This scheme also collapsed. Instead of re-Ba’athization, what has happened in Fallujah is Talibanization.
Every entrance to the city is controlled by the mujahideen, who also control the US-trained Iraqi policemen. Most men now are mujahideen, either in the Iraqi National Guard (the former US-trained Iraqi Civil Defense Corps); the Iraqi police; and in the population as a whole. The real Ba’ath military power in Fallujah is in the hands of two people with very close ties to the emirs: Jassem Mohammed Saleh – the first commander of the Fallujah Brigade – and Abdullah Hamed.
The Fallujah-connected sources tell Asia Times Online that the new US-Allawi-appointed Iraqi secret services hoped the Ba’ath military in Fallujah would circumscribe the influence of the mujahideen. The exact opposite has happened. In Fallujah, Ba’athists now answer to the emirs in control of the resistance.
Armed resistance or bust
Imam Mahdi al-Sumaidai, who spent five months in Abu Ghraib prison because the Americans found weapons hidden in his mosque, is considered in Baghdad the key Iraqi Salafi leader, and the spiritual leader of Sunni guerrillas all over the country. He strongly advocates that the only way forward is through armed struggle – pointing to the fact that the resistance has expanded, in one year, from a few men to a few cities.
Jassem Issaoui, spokesman for the Council of Salafis and Sufis in Iraq, claims that the world refuses to judge US war crimes, while condemning some Iraqis as terrorists: “The Americans are cowboys, while we are a movement of popular resistance,” he says. This popular resistance, in his eyes, has nothing to do with the interference of foreign groups. Qays al-Fakhri, a spokesman for the Salafis, adds that the resistance has proved some incontrovertible points: the US military machine is not invincible; security in Fallujah is now excellent; and “history teaches us that only armed resistance can end a foreign military occupation”.
From a Salafi point of view, the Iraqi resistance is “a coalition of Salafis, Sufis, Ba’athists and tribal leaders without a unique leader, so the degree of coordination is very superficial”. Unlike the Shura in Fallujah, apparently there has never been a single meeting between the emirs and tribal leaders on a national level. The Salafis do recognize the presence of foreign fighters – the White House and Pentagon mantra for 15 months now – but say they may be “10, 50 or 100 at the most, our Arab and Muslim brothers” – just a drop in the resistance ocean.
So what does Fallujah represent? The mujahideen believe that if they can push the Americans out of Fallujah, they can win the rest of Iraq. For them, Allawi is just another temporary nuisance. As the Taliban in Kandahar in the late 1990s did, the Iraqi mujahideen believe the whole country can be theirs. Once again, that’s the essence of the jihad spirit: a war waged as much in the terrain as in the mind, and therefore eternal.