The mass demonstrations in Baghdad against the American presence in Iraq are evidence of the threat that is growing closer and which Washington will have to face. When hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens, suffering from a shortage in water, food and medicine, find the time to print placards in English and Arabic against the occupation; when Sunni and Shi'a unite in opposition to what they call American occupation; when Islamic slogans are heard louder than those calling for democracy; and when nearly every citizen also has a gun and perhaps several dozen grenades, the road between liberation and guerrilla warfare may be short.
The mass demonstration on Friday in Baghdad, after prayers, is just the preview of what is expected on Tuesday in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Then, an estimated million Shi'ites will assemble for the ceremony of remembrance, marking the murder in 680 C.E. of Hussein Ibn Ali, the son of Caliph Ali, the spiritual and political leader of the Shi'ite community. This will be the first time in a quarter century that the Shi'a will not only be able to carry out this important religious ceremony, which by custom is held the 40th day after the death, but will also be able to express in public religious and political opinions. To go by the slogans heard on Friday from the Shi'ite clergy and their followers, it will "suddenly" become clear that the hatred and fear of Saddam does not automatically translate into favor for the liberators.
A violent war of religion between Sunnis and Shi'as has still not started; for now, it has been diverted to the political arena where it is manifested in the disputes over the formation of an interim Iraqi government. This may be good news, but it also may suggest that there is a "list of priorities" in marking the enemy: first the national enemy, the American "occupier," and then the internal ethnic and religious disputes. This is not a new process. Lebanon is just one example where the internal disputes were pushed aside in order to deal with the Israeli occupation. The motto, "We are all Iraqis," was clearly heard in Sunni and Shi'ite
mosques on Friday and its practical meaning is: "We all oppose the foreigners."
The Shi'ites are taking the leading role in opposing the Americans and one Shi'a group, the Sairi, is distancing from any cooperation with the U.S. This may make the establishment of an interim government difficult.
Other organizations, like the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chelabi, or the monarchist group of Ali Ben-Hussein, may be viewed not only as not representative of the majority, but also as traitors who collaborate with the "occupier." The demonstrations against the gathering at Nassiriyah last Tuesday, which was intended to initiate the process of coordination between the various opposition groups and integrate those arriving from abroad with the locals, suggested that a conflict was brewing between the supporters and opponents of the U.S.. The extent of the dispute was evident in the mass demonstrations on Friday.
These are just the first stages of the dynamic in Iraq. The speed with which the anti-Americanism is developing may result in changes to the original plan for an interim Iraqi government. And there are still pockets of opposition inside the country. The civil infrastructure is still not functioning properly, while the need to incorporate officials who were part of Saddam's regime is quickly becoming necessary.
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