Iraq Pulse

Iraqi Sunni Leader Accused of Inciting Violence Against Shiites

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Article Summary
Revered by Anbar youth as a protector of their rights, Iraqi Sunni leader Ahmad al-Alwani has recently taken heat for allegedly inciting Sunnis to kill Shiites.

In a phone interview and before the issuance of an arrest warrant against him, Ahmad al-Alwani, a controversial Sunni politician, spoke to Al-Monitor about the future of Sunnis in Iraq. He said, “They are threatened with sectarian cleansing because of Iran and those pledging loyalty to Tehran in Iraq.”

He added, “In the protest square in Ramadi, everyone is waiting for the moment when Iraq is liberated from the Iranian occupation.” Alwani uses such terms when addressing the angry Sunni public, and seems to galvanize them and draws their favor.

Observers of the protest square will quickly notice that Alwani is the only politician to have remained in place. The majority of Sunni coalition leaders have left to their partisan offices.

Observers believe that Sunnis opposed to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have deliberately left Alwani in the square to manage it and preserve the popular momentum while they focus on political negotiations with Shiite powers, notably the State of Law Coalition.

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The course of settlement between Sunni and Shiite powers has progressed to the extent that informed political sources told Al-Monitor that Sunni leaders, Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi foremost among them, succeeded in concluding an agreement with Maliki over “settling the issue of Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi and annulling the accusations against him and his bodyguards in exchange for supporting Maliki’s third term.”

“The settlement comprises preserving the position of Nujaifi as a speaker of parliament,” said the sources close to the State of Law Coalition.

The preoccupation of Sunni leaders in negotiations over sharing power, in addition to the new deal, have led Alwani to monopolize the Sunni public and gain further popularity.

Alwani has become a Sunni revolutionary symbol. He is regarded by a wide majority of youth in Anbar as a leader defending public rights and expressing their aspirations in one way or another. Alwani, however, is instilling hatred against Shiites as well. He stood out as a political catalyst of protests that erupted in Anbar against the policies of the federal government, a demonstration that later transformed into an open-ended sit-in.

Statements amounting to incitement for the killing of Shiites were attributed to Alwani. However, he regularly denied the accusations, saying that the statements were fragmented and taken out of context.

There has been growing talk among Shiite circles that Alwani’s statements are paving the way for the emergence of Sunni extremist groups that would employ violence to eliminate Shiites.

“No, this is not true," said Alwani, speaking to Al-Monitor. "I have not spoken ill of Shiites. It has been said that I am inciting against Shiites. This is just political propaganda. I will not differentiate between Iraqis based on their sects. I accused Iran of killing Iraqis and of destroying their homelands. I believe some parties were provoked by the talk about the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“The problem of sectarianism will be solved in Iraq only when Iran desists from interfering in Iraq and when the policy of marginalization against Sunnis is stopped,” he added.

When asked whether he and other Sunni leaders were accused of receiving funds from the Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Alwani said, “We do not need money from anyone. People are enraged and do not need funds to go to the streets and protest.”

However, the Iraqi judiciary issued a warrant for his arrest, under Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

In a press conference held Sept. 17 in Baghdad, attended by Al-Monitor, Bahaa al-Araji, a leader of the Sadrist movement, said that the decision came “after the complaint by the Liberal bloc affiliated with the Sadrist movement, because of Alwani’s sectarian statements.”

Moreover, the Shiite National Iraqi Alliance previously demanded that the Iraqi parliament investigate Alwani’s statements, which were seen by the alliance’s leaders as offensive to Shiites.

Meanwhile, Shiite parliament members have called upon Sunni tribes in Anbar to disown Alwani, but to no avail, as Alwani speaks on behalf of the city’s young people and uses their same abusive language riddled with anger.

Nevertheless, the warrant came to the advantage of the Shiite leaders who were greatly upset with Alwani’s statements, and to that of the Sunni forces fearing that their ally in Anbar — Alwani — might gain more popularity especially since the 2014 Iraqi parliamentary elections are in the offing.

In a phone interview and before the issuance of an arrest warrant against him, Ahmad al-Alwani, a controversial Sunni politician, spoke to Al-Monitor about the future of Sunnis in Iraq. He said, “They are threatened with sectarian cleansing because of Iran and those pledging loyalty to Tehran in Iraq.”

He added, “In the protest square in Ramadi, everyone is waiting for the moment when Iraq is liberated from the Iranian occupation.” Alwani uses such terms when addressing the angry Sunni public, and seems to galvanize them and draw their favor.

Observers of the protest square will quickly notice that Alwani is the only politician to have remained in place. The majority of Sunni coalition leaders have left to go to their offices.

Observers believe that Sunnis opposed to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have deliberately left Alwani in the square to manage it and preserve the popular momentum while they focus on political negotiations with Shiite powers, notably the State of Law Coalition.

The course of settlement between Sunni and Shiite powers has progressed to the extent that informed political sources told Al-Monitor that Sunni leaders, parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi foremost among them, succeeded in concluding an agreement with Maliki. One source said the pact’s goal was “settling the issue of Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi and annulling the accusations against him and his bodyguards in exchange for supporting Maliki’s third term.”

The sources close to the State of Law Coalition said the settlement would preserve the position of Nujaifi as a speaker of parliament.

The preoccupation of Sunni leaders in negotiations over sharing power, in addition to the new deal, have led Alwani to monopolize the Sunni public and gain further popularity.

Alwani has become a Sunni revolutionary symbol. He is regarded by a wide majority of youths in Anbar as a leader defending public rights and expressing their aspirations in one way or another. Alwani, however, is instilling hatred against Shiites as well. He stood out as a political catalyst of protests that erupted in Anbar against the policies of the federal government, a demonstration that later transformed into an open-ended sit-in.

Statements amounting to incitement for the killing of Shiites were attributed to Alwani. However, he regularly denied the accusations, saying that the statements were fragmented and taken out of context.

There has been growing talk in Shiite circles that Alwani’s statements are paving the way for the emergence of Sunni extremist groups that would employ violence to kill Shiites.

“No, this is not true," Alwani told Al-Monitor. "I have not spoken ill of Shiites. It has been said that I am inciting against Shiites. This is just political propaganda. I will not differentiate between Iraqis based on their sects. I accused Iran of killing Iraqis and of destroying their homelands. I believe some parties were provoked by the talk about the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“The problem of sectarianism will be solved in Iraq only when Iran desists from interfering in Iraq and when the policy of marginalization against Sunnis is stopped,” he added.

When asked accusations that he and other Sunni leaders were receiving funds from the Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Alwani said, “We do not need money from anyone. People are enraged and do not need funds to go to the streets and protest.”

However, the Iraqi judiciary issued a warrant for his arrest, under Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

In a news conference held Sept. 17 in Baghdad, attended by Al-Monitor, Bahaa al-Araji, a leader of the Sadrist movement, said that the decision came “after the complaint by the Liberal bloc affiliated with the Sadrist movement, because of Alwani’s sectarian statements.”

Moreover, the Shiite National Iraqi Alliance previously demanded that the Iraqi parliament investigate Alwani’s statements, which were seen by the alliance’s leaders as offensive to Shiites.

Meanwhile, Shiite parliament members have called upon Sunni tribes in Anbar to disown Alwani, but to no avail, as Alwani speaks on behalf of the city’s young people and uses their same abusive language riddled with anger.

Nevertheless, the warrant came to the advantage of the Shiite leaders who were greatly upset with Alwani’s statements, and to that of the Sunni forces fearing that their ally in Anbar — Alwani — might gain more popularity, especially since the 2014 Iraqi parliamentary elections are in the offing.

Ali Abel Sadah is a Baghdad-based writer for both Iraqi and Arab media. He has been a managing editor for local newspapers as well as a political and cultural reporter for more than 10 years.

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Found in: shiite-sunni strife, iraqi shiites, iraqi politics

Ali Abel Sadah is a Baghdad-based writer for both Iraqi and Arab media. He has been a managing editor for local newspapers as well as a political and cultural reporter for more than 10 years.

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