Iraq insurgency leader sees revolution ahead

Harith al Dhari says failure to form government four months after election has fuelled people's anger against politicians and outside forces

DAMASCUS // Increasing public disillusionment and fury over the stalled political process in Iraq is strengthening anti-government militants, according to Harith al Dhari, the hard-line tribal chief considered a spiritual leader of the insurgency.

In an interview in Damascus, the Sunni sheikh, a wanted man in Baghdad, admitted that insurgents had been weakened in recent years but said they were now rejuvenating, fuelled by increased popular outrage against parties across the political spectrum. "The resistance isn't defeated, it is still present and active, it still inflicts casualties on the forces of occupation," he said. "We have to admit that the resistance has become reduced in its impact and influence compared to 2004, 2005 and 2006, but it is rebuilding today.

"The Iraqi people are very angry and there will be renewed resistance and we may finally see a revolution against the occupation and this government that has spread so much suffering." Since the March 7 elections, Iraq's political parties have failed to form a new administration, unable to agree on the fundamental matter of which group gets to choose the prime minister. Divisions between the various blocs seem intractable, with no sign that a resolution is on the horizon.

This impasse has added to a deep frustration with Iraq's political classes among ordinary people, many of whom already saw the parties as corrupt and self-serving, rather than working collectively to reconstruct a war-shattered country. As the stalemate continues, millions of Iraqis struggle with poverty, unemployment and the political violence that remains rife. About 200 to 300 people are killed each month, a significant number of them civilians.

Circumstances are "dire and worsening by the day", Mr al Dhari, said, describing Iraq as a battlefield between "militias, foreign intelligence agencies, occupation troops, the resistance and sectarian politicians". As chairman of the fundamentalist Association of Muslim Scholars, Mr al Dhari, 59, has been an ardent opponent to the post-2003 invasion political process. Together with his rejectionist followers he has refused all involvement in Iraqi politics until US forces leave the country, insisting that in the meantime it is a national duty to resist foreign occupation.

Under an agreement with the Iraqi government, Washington is supposed to pull out its troops by the end of next year, a timetable Mr al Dhari dismissed as a fiction. "Don't trust the Americans in their promise to leave. I don't expect them to go." Mr al Dhari predicted that, if conditions in Iraq continue as they are, al Qa'eda and Iraqi nationalist insurgents could join forces. The two sets of militants are opposed to one another, he said, the former involved in murdering innocent Iraqis while the latter provide a legitimate resistance.

"The relationship between the Iraqi national resistance and al Qa'eda is bad but maybe, if the suffering continues as it is, the entire rejectionist movement in Iraq will unify its efforts and a united force will be established, to face the dictatorship of the sectarian political parties." At the height of Iraq's bloodletting between 2005 and 2007 - when the insurgency was at its strongest - many Iraqi tribes supported the insurgency and allied with al Qa'eda in opposition to the government.

They then switched sides as part of the so-called tribal awakening, forming Sahwa Councils, joining with US and Iraqi government troops and turning their weapons on their former allies. This awakening movement is credited as a key element in stabilising Iraq and cutting back spiralling violence. In recent months, however, it is these same Sahwa forces, now being phased out by Baghdad, that have borne the brunt of many al Qa'eda attacks, with scores of tribal fighters killed and injured. Reports are beginning to circulate of disgruntled Sahwa members returning, once more, to the al Qa'eda fold.

"The Sahwa are finished and we see the truth that the stability they supposedly brought was an illusion, it was never really there," Mr al Dhari said. He insisted tribal leaders in the Sahwa Councils now viewed their decisions to join with the government and US as a mistake. "They are like loyal slaves who get killed for that loyalty," he said. Since 2006, when the Iraqi interior ministry issued a warrant for his arrest for his support of militants, Mr al Dhari has lived in exile, splitting his time primarily between Jordan and Syria. He was born in Anbar province in 1951, and his family has a reputation of fighting against foreign interference in Iraq. It was his grandfather who shot and killed Col Gerard Leachman, the British army officer in charge of suppressing the Arab revolt in 1920.

That is a piece of history of which Mr al Dhari is proud: "My grandfather fought British imperialism with a rifle, so did my father with the rifle and the sword."