November 28, 2006
An Iraqi Sunni leader discusses his support for violence, what to do about death squads and his relationship with Moqtada al-Sadr.
By Michael Hastings
Updated: 1:23 p.m. ET Nov. 28, 2006
Nov. 28, 2006 - Harith Al Dhari is a wanted man. Earlier this month, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government accused the influential Sunni leader of inciting terrorism and issued a warrant for his arrest while he was out of the country. Al Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association, declared the warrant illegal—and continued traveling around the region as part of his campaign to get other Arab states to deny recognition to the al-Maliki administration.
The warrant has inflamed tensions in Iraq, where violence is surging and where many consider Al Dhari—a longtime supporter of violent resistance against American troops—a hero rather than a terrorist. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Michael Hastings at his current home in Amman, Jordan. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: There's a warrant out for your arrest. Do you plan on going back to Iraq?
Al Dhari: My return to Iraq has nothing to with the arrest warrant. It all depends on if it achieves an interest that is for the good of Iraq or not. If it's for the good I will go back. It all depends on the developments on the ground. The government will not and cannot arrest me. My going back or not going back has nothing to with the arrest warrant.
If they tried to arrest you, would you resist?
Everything will be defined in its time. [An aide seated in the room interjects: "The people will not allow him to be arrested. The reality is the people will sacrifice their lives for him."]
Why did you think the Iraqi government issued the warrant?
Because of the chaos and lack of security and the killings, and the destruction. There is a psychological crisis in the government. Our political speech is realistic and very honest and is starting to disturb them. It uncovers a lot of facts that they don't want to reveal. My visits to the Arab countries have established pressure on them. Also what happened in Washington, from the [midterm] elections which led to the defeat of the administration and the Republicans—it made the [Iraqi] IRAQI government afraid of the unknown. They [carried out] a number of irresponsible procedures, and one of them was the warrant for my arrest. One of the reasons for this warrant is that they say I incite divisions, sectarian divisions between the Iraqi people, that I am provoking them. That's what they claim.
Do you blame the Americans for the warrant?
I don't blame them because I'm not sure that the U.S. was behind it. I blame the Iraqi government. Whether it was [Prime Minister] Nuri al-Maliki or others behind it, I don't know, because in practical terms, this warrant cannot come out without the prime minister's knowledge.
Who's responsible for the [Iraqi] death squads?
Militias are the ones that are doing the killing and all these death squads are from the militias. These death squads and the militias are part of the political parties that are part of the government.
But can Maliki stop them?
Is he behind it and does he accept it? Or is he unable to stop it? It has to be one or the other. I don't think he is unable to stop it. And if he's unable to stop it, he should step down from his position. If he really cares about Iraq and the Iraqi people because he is the person responsible for Iraq, and if he unable to stop the death squad and crimes against the Iraqi people he should resign. This is what logic says. If it goes on and he's unable to stop it, that means he approves of it. His government is responsible and is accountable for everything that's happening in Iraq; [if it's not] he should leave the opportunity for someone else.
Do you think Maliki should meet with President George Bush [in Jordan this week]?
I have no opinion, it's a meeting between allies, with shared interests, private shared interests.
The violence [last] week has been the worst since the war began. What's your solution?
If the government stays like it is now, I don't support the government, and I ask for its cancellation. [In Washington],they're all getting solutions they're not capable of doing. It could be very easily done. To stop the political process, and find an alternative, a strong defining alternative that is able to give them security for Iraq and Iraqis. To end this mockery, what they call democracy, what they call this political process, that is considered one of the stupidest jokes in history.
You're called a terrorist by some in the government.
They claim this because I support the resistance. [They say that] as long as I support the resistance, I’m a terrorist and I support Al Qaeda. We represent to them [Abu Mussab al-] Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein. They always put us in this category so they will distort our image.
Do you distinguish between the resistance and Al Qaeda?
Al Qaeda is part of the resistance. But the resistance is two kinds. The resistance that only resists occupation, this we support 100 percent. And the resistance that mixes up resisting occupation and killing the innocents and the Iraqi people, and this even if it calls itself resistance, we condemn it. We do not support it all.
But is seems much of the violence is sectarian, Sunni versus Shia. What then do you tell your followers?
There is a resistance that only resists occupation, and there are groups that are in the same tunnel as the occupation and they help and support the occupation by fighting the resistance. And the resistance answers these parties [that help the occupation.]
You have just come back from Cairo. What was behind your trips around the region?
I want to inform the biggest number of Arabs in charge about what's happening in Iraq, the tragedy and destruction. I went to call upon the international community and the Arabs to help us get out of this mess.
[Shiite leader] Moqtada al-Sadr called upon you to issue a fatwa condemning violence after last week's attacks.
He knows very well we were the first to issue these fatwas already three years ago. The most important was that it was sacrilegious to kill a Muslim, and we spoke about this. There was a comprehensive agreement, and we wanted the declaration to be signed by all, to be signed by all the [religious schools of thought], and also the Sadrite group signed it. The government rejected it and mocked it. Why is Sadr saying it now? Is he trying to provoke a problem? When the Americans attacked Sadr and surrounded him in Najaf and Kuffa, we made a fatwa to stop Muslims from killing Muslims—to say it was sacrilegious for Muslims to stand with the occupation against the brothers, and we meant that it's the Iraqi government that was fighting Sadr, and most of them were from the Badr Brigade [a rival Shiite militia] and he knows that. We stood by him, and the Iranian marja [religious schools] and Lebanese marja stayed away, we stood by him and helped him anyway.
Is Sadr a friend or an ally now?
He used to be a friend, he used to be an ally. He will not come back as a friend or ally unless he lets go of supporting the occupation, unless he stops supporting the occupation, and denounces publicly the division of Iraq, denounces sectarianism and denounces federalism.
Are you worried about Iran's designs on Iraq?
No, I'm not worried. The Iraqi people are real people, strong people, they will resist. They've been resisting the Americans for four years, and they will resist any others.