As one of the intellectual foundations of the Iraqi resistance, how did the work of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) begin?
The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) was established after the occupation began, a religious association whose concerns at the beginning had no relation to politics and came to fill the gap left by the Ministry of Awqaf, or religious affairs. We were also responsible for establishing contact with religious, tribal and social figures, to raise awareness on concepts of citizenship, and to repel the appearance of signs of civil war, as through our detailed monitoring we came to know that the occupation had a clear intention to spark civil war. We were successful, through the issuing of religious decrees (fatwas), between us and all the other confessional and sectarian groups, in achieving this goal.
We also had a third responsibility, which was to raise the consciousness and culture of the people against occupation, because at the start there were many people who had the perception that the occupation came to help them, or to promise them a better life. So through our initiatives, either through mosques on Friday gatherings or through our general meetings, we showed the people that occupation does not serve the nation, and that the occupation has its own goals, and that the occupation works for destruction and not construction.
These were our goals to begin with. There was no aim to take part in political work because we depended on existing political forces, Islamic and otherwise also patriotic, to take on this role instead of us. However, after the creation of the Governing Council in July 2003 we were surprised that the occupation contained the majority of the political forces, either the majority that had come with it from abroad, or the minority that operated from within. So we realised that from one day to the next the voice for opposition to occupation disappeared, because the majority became involved in its political project, which the occupation set up and which a civilian leader was sent to establish, and that was Paul Bremer.
Here, AMSI found itself forced to conduct political work to rekindle the concepts of the opposition, and to raise awareness among the people against the occupation. Our first statement related to the Governing Council and it was a sign that AMSI had added to its responsibilities a new responsibility, that of political and media opposition, and consciousness-raising of the people against occupation. We have currently arrived at issuing statement number 580, and all our statements are political statements.
How has the Iraqi resistance developed?
What is known from a reading of history is that resistance undergoes three phases. The first phase is a phase of reaction. This was perhaps the most difficult phase because the occupation tried to cover up the existence of any kind of resistance, to the extent that it would persecute journalists who would indicate the existence of such a resistance. In this phase, we were the main proclaimer of the resistance, who said that there was a resistance, and provided proof of it.
There is a second phase to resistance, and that is the process of different activities becoming clear under titles and slogans, core or otherwise. This is the phase that the resistance is currently living. There are numerous names, including the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Al-Rashidin Army, the Army of Mujahideen, and it is of course a better phase than the previous one -- more advanced. Once these titles emerged the occupation forces went crazy, because it was no longer possible to cover up the resistance from the media, and so it sought refuge in another idea, and that was to say that those groups were not resisting on behalf of the Iraqi people, but rather that they were groups coming in from the outside, described as terrorist.
This gave rise to another difficult responsibility for AMSI, which was to say through the media to the world that no, this was not true, that there is a resistance, considered legitimate by the religions of the book and the agreements of the United Nations, and on the other hand there is terrorism. We reject terrorism that targets civilians, however we are with the resistance, and what our people are doing is resistance, not terrorism.
We also entered into confrontation with the occupation forces because of these ideas, and we were targeted and from AMSI alone approximately 200 martyrs have left us, and we have 180 prisoners in the prisons of the occupation and the government, from our membership base alone. The reason for this is that we gave support to the resistance, and our work derailed attempts to conceal reality. Currently the resistance is in this phase, the second phase. And we are still working within this framework and are signalling its goals, and wherever we go in the Arab world and even Europe our role is to make known that there is a resistance and that it has its noble goals, and that it is not terrorist and that it wants to free the nation, and it wants to build a state in accordance to the criteria followed everywhere in the world -- for there to be an electoral process to elect the authorities, and that is our right.
There is a third phase, in the history of resistance movements, which the Iraqi resistance has not yet reached. We are working in order to raise ourselves to this phase, and it is the phase in which there is the emergence of a unified leadership that gathers together the different strands of the resistance, and which has some territorial control, and that forces the occupying enemy to the negotiating table. Honestly, this phase is very difficult to reach. Normally, in resistance movements in history, what has happened in the second phase is that resistance begins to receive international support. Look, for example, at the Vietnamese resistance, or the Algerian resistance. Once there are titles and names for the resistance movement, different states or peoples begin to sympathise. However, the resistance in our case is different. It does not yet have international support, not even from the region, and the reason is that for the first time in the history of humanity -- and this surprises many -- there is a resistance against a single pole in the world.
Throughout history, all resistance movements that have emerged, whether in our Arab world or in Europe or otherwise, did so in the context of more than one pole of power. So when a resistance movement emerged against a pole, support was forthcoming from other poles. Look, for example, at the Vietnamese resistance. There was Russia, and it was a great power, and there was China, and there were non-aligned states, and there were approximately 47 socialist states, which supported the Vietnamese resistance. The situation of the Iraqi resistance is unique in that it resists in a world for the first time ruled by one pole. And it is unfortunate that the one pole should be this one. This made the resistance suffer a lot. Because this pole dominates international politics, and international organisations and international media, it manages to check any side that is trying to support the resistance, whether economically or morally or in the media or politically.
We were, without exaggerating, the ones who most supported the resistance against the occupier, even though we were by this act exposing our chests to the flames of the occupation.
The resistance is currently in the second phase, and we are struggling and working for the resistance to move to the third phase, in order to force our enemy to negotiations and to withdraw from our land, and for the country to return to its people.
Because of the uniqueness of the Iraqi resistance, which you describe, many feel the resistance is struggling on behalf of us all -- even outside the Arab world. Would you agree?
I assure you, as I always assure the media, that the Iraqi resistance is not only an Iraqi resistance. It resists on behalf of the Arab world, the Islamic world and the humane world. America has brought oppression to everyone. Its reach has extended all over the world, north, south, east and west. This is a reality that everyone knows. The Iraqi resistance takes on the role of defending the rights of everyone.
I remember a story. I have a friend in London who works in translation and he has employees from China. One employee would ask me each morning how many Americans were killed on Iraqi soil and I would reply. Then I could see that as the number of Americans would rise, he would be happy. So I asked him, given his sympathy with the Iraqi people, perhaps he was a Muslim? When I asked him, he said no. So I asked him, why are you happy every time the number of Americans killed rises? He said because you in Iraq are a barricade. If this barricade collapses the hand of the Americans will reach China. It's possible that the Russian man would say the same, or even a European might say this, as the Europeans may well recognise that America has overstepped all boundaries and has stepped over the rights and will of all people.
AMSI issued a fatwa branding as treason the so-called Status of Forces Agreement the US is trying to conclude with its local puppet allies. Aside from being illegal, will this agreement have any effect on the ground?
As can be seen by anyone who follows Iraq's news, the Iraqi people reject the agreement. It was rejected publicly by the Iraqi resistance, and by associations that support the resistance, and by associations that represent important sections of society, and also by the political forces. What is interesting is that even some of the political forces that are inside the American political game have also declared their rejection. Naturally this may be for reasons that may not be patriotic. There are influences by neighbouring states as is known, and there are many forces tied to Iran, and Iran doesn't want this agreement because it considers the American presence in the long run as dangerous to it.
So what happened was a near consensus in rejection of the agreement. However, unfortunately the agreement lost its negotiability, and it is being forced and if it is not signed then the Iraqi people will pay an enormous price. But agreements are built on an exchange of free will, and built on sovereignty. As a result I believe that this agreement has no meaning, even if it is signed. Why? Because if America manages to stay in Iraq it would execute the contents of the agreement without an agreement: it would hold power. And if America leaves, then the first step the incoming patriotic power would do will be to throw this agreement in the rubbish bin. Further, I think the world is following and knows it is a forced agreement without any worth.
The US occupation in Iraq is defeated, unable to achieve its goals. Its local forces -- in particular the puppet regime of Maliki -- have no credibility. Aside from terror and violence, how does it hang on?
I assure you that the US occupation cannot stay. We say often to the media that the occupation will fall soon. Some journalists are surprised, and answer with the question: You speak with full confidence, how do you know that? We say that we have detailed information and know the reality of what the Americans are faced with.
I recall something one of the scholars said in an interview with Al-Jazeera, in which he said America today resembles the Prophet Suleiman, who continued to stand even after he was dead. Then, as the Quran says, an ant came and ate the stick upon which he leant and he fell dead. And if those people who worked under the prophet knew he was long dead, they would not have continued to do so. And the scholar continued to say that America is beginning to die. And yet before the Arabs and others it continues to seem as though it is a strong power, whereas in reality it is not that way. It is starting to eat itself up.
This beautiful and accurate metaphor is representative, in my view, of the situation in Iraq. America is defeated. America has no confidence. It is comparable to a person hanging down from a tall building, who knows what will happen if he lets go of the thin rope that is the only thing keeping him alive. He is forced to hold on. America knows that if the truth is exposed then it will be finished as a great power before the world.
For this reason it bears daily killing, so as to not admit it is defeated. America does not want to repeat the experience of Vietnam. But be sure, that moment is coming. And because of this I believe that the incoming president, whether Republican or Democrat, has no choice but withdrawal, because he will be surprised by the scale of the disaster which he has inherited from President Bush, and by the fact that President Bush was covering up reality.
The US occupation has destroyed Iraq's once advanced heathcare system. Cholera is now at epidemic proportions. Iraq's once advanced education system has also been destroyed, threatening Iraq's future by attacking the capacities of its future generations. Do you think this was all purposeful?
Yes. I gave a statement to Al-Arabiya channel in September 2003. I said then: We used to say that America has come to stay, whereas now we say that America has come to leave but only after it has destroyed everything. We used to be surprised that there is a programmed policy for destruction, and it is not random, nor is it a response to popular reactions or to actions by the resistance. No, they want an excuse to destroy the hospital, they want an excuse to burn the clinic; they want an excuse to burn the fields. Be sure, when the Americans came they came with a mind for destruction, destruction, and more destruction.
The outgoing US administration and Republicans generally argue that success in Iraq is at hand. How can the US project for Iraq be deemed a success when nearly a quarter of the Iraqi population is displaced inside and outside the country and over a million Iraqis have been killed since 2003?
What makes this war stand out is that it has come about from beginning to end built on lies. To begin with, lies were told to say that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al-Qaeda, but although these lies have been exposed, the lies continue. At a time when we witness hundreds of deaths and the destruction of hospitals, they are saying they brought freedom. We, the Iraqis, don't know whether to laugh or cry because of all this madness. They always announce that they are victorious.
If you remember two or three years ago President Bush declared victory was near, and just how he thought so I don't know. They think that they have succeeded, or that is the lie that they made up. I think that what they mean by victory is an increase in the destruction of Iraq, and an increase in killing. The language of US victory is the language of the destruction of Iraq and the elimination of its existence.
According to Pentagon statistics, published on an American war veteran website, since 1991 to 2007 approximately, the number of Americans killed in Iraq was near 37,000. Whereas we know that in the Kuwait War very few Americans were killed, and so in order to lighten the shock for the American people the span of the study was made so long. The published figure of injured Americans is higher than 600,000. I guarantee to you that the number in reality is even higher than that. These are the American numbers. The week after this study was published on the war veterans' site, President Bush ordered for it to be removed because it was scandalous to him. So he is covering up American losses and their real scale.
Do you believe Barack Obama when he speaks of withdrawing US forces in 16 months?
I believe the decision of withdrawal that Obama speaks of is an electoral card. And secondly, whether he is telling the truth or not, should he come to power he would be forced to withdraw. This is because he would not permit himself to inherit the mistakes of others and to pay the price for them, especially given that he is a Democrat. I don't think -- if he has any capacity for thought at all -- he would stay in Iraq.
In the media, even independent sources, the number of attacks against US forces, and US casualties, appears significantly lowered from last year's. Is this accurate, and if so why?
This is true. The number of operations by the resistance has decreased to approximately 50 per cent, yes. There are reasons for this and the main cause is the Awakening (Sahwa) projects. The Americans played a game, led by Petraeus, and succeeded in it. We had areas such as Al-Anbar, very hot areas, and approximately 50 per cent of the operations against the occupation used to take place from Al-Anbar province. Here, in Al-Anbar, the Sahwa projects were created. So that 50 per cent disappeared. Al-Sahwa succeeded for a moment, though they are now finished, as I will describe shortly.
They succeeded temporarily because America put pressure on Al-Anbar for one and a half years; there were no markets for the people, no hospitals, curfews, and people were even brought to hunger and slow death. Suddenly, the US made new leaders from people from the city and said they were going to save the city, and they lifted the pressure from the city, so as to create the impression that the pressure was lifted at the hands of those individuals. They were trusted, to begin with. This is the reason for the success of the project.
The second reason for this success was that there were mistakes made by extremist groups in Al-Anbar, including the killing of people. They would kill a man just because he had been seen entering a US military camp. Or they would kill just because a man had shown support for the police -- even if he didn't work for the police as such. Or they would kill men who had worked for the police and resigned and apologised. These were big mistakes. In addition to these mistakes, the Americans, according to our accurate information, had private, secret death squads, making explosions and putting the blame on these organisations, or killing children or poisoning water, and likewise putting the blame on these groups.
So an atmosphere was created whereby people had had enough, and when these so-called sheikhs of Al-Sahwa came about, the US stopped putting such pressure on Al-Anbar and ordered the squads to stop placing explosives. We also have documented evidence of American soldiers themselves laying down explosives and then by fate to return via the same path later and die from explosions caused by the same devices they had laid. Meanwhile, the people began to sympathise with Al-Sahwa and so the resistance lost in that area the environment that embraced it -- and you know that among the most important factors in the success of a resistance movement is the environment in which it exists. So when it lost in that area the environment the number of operations went down.
Now, however, the Sahwa project is finished. The Americans themselves have abandoned it. And, in addition, the men of Al-Sahwa have themselves committed grave errors, to the extent that they have lost the trust of the people. Now, the resistance has started to regain trust. I assure you that within the coming six months, based on our experienced estimates, the rate of resistance operations will return to the level it was at before the Sahwa project.
How will peace be achieved in Iraq?
There will be no peace so long as there is occupation. The occupation does not work with understanding or negotiation. An occupier does not enter friendship, but rather with the bullet and cannon: this is a universal truth. Every time we tried to solve a problem that came about in Iraq because of the occupation, and succeeded in doing so, the occupation would give birth to another problem. We will not get rid of this vicious cycle, because it is not in the occupation's interest to end it. For example, there were attempts to spark a civil war, and we were able, with the help of God, to solve this, and then the occupation brought in the Sahwa project, and so on.
So the first step for peace is for the occupation to leave.
If the occupier leaves, I won't exaggerate and say there will be peace from one day to the next, no. There will still be problems. But we will be able to contain our problems. We, the Iraqis, will be able to work towards solving them one by one, together, without another power creating problems for us.
We as AMSI have proposed our programme from the beginning: there needs to be the exit of the occupation from Iraq with international guarantees; focus must be put on the political process and the constitution must be cancelled; and there must be the restoration of the real Iraqi army. That is the path towards peace. The first step is the exit of the occupier.