I live in Iraq and I am not afraid

Published: June 29, 2014
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Sheikh Abd al-Mahdi Karbala’i, representative of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, giving his Friday sermon and asking Iraqis to join the fight against the ISIS. PHOTO: REUTERS

I was at Karbala when Sheikh Abd al-Mahdi Karbala’i, representative of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, gave his fiery Friday sermon in which he delivered the message of Sistani to the people, asking Iraqis to register as volunteers in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), whom he called “takfiris”.

The atmosphere became extremely spirited during the speech. Perhaps it was because of the nature of the event during which this speech was made that everyone felt connected to each other. It was the eve of the birth of the twelfth imam of the Shiite sect, Imam Mehdi, and this message on this particular day by the Ayatollah was an implicit motivation for followers of the faith to take action and stand for themselves.

However, before we discuss the significance of this unity, it is important to understand how the demographics in Iraq work.

The north of Iraq is controlled by the Kurds and they have a very well trained and well equipped militia known as the Peshmerga fighters. The Kurds have taken this situation with the ISIS as an opportunity and have captured considerable disputed territories, like Kirkuk, from the Iraqi army. They are also confronting ISIS in defence of the Kurdish controlled regions, as much as they can.

The regions close to Kirkuk, such as Tel Afar, Haditha, Mosul and Ramadi, is dominated by people who have liberal notions and have started migrating in huge numbers due to the militancy that has become increasingly powerful over there.

The ISIS now stand 30 miles from Baghdad the capital itself. From Baghdad to Basra in the south, stands the Shiite heartland with the holiest of shrines, including those of Hazrat Ali (RA) in Najaf and Imam Hussain (RA) in Karbala. These shrines are heavily defended by Shia-led militias, volunteers and the Iraqi army against the ISIS.

So, at one point we see a group that is focused entirely on its own interests and has little to do with the ISIS or the Iraqi army, whereas on the other, we see people standing up for their heritage and for things they deem important. Yes, there are people who are trying their best to protect their land – with or without foreign support, despite the divisions that have been wedged into the national fabric of Iraq.

Along with division in demographics, there are different perspectives associated with the current political scenario in Iraq. A friend working in Erbil, the centre of the Kurdish region, tells me that the fervour of an independent autonomous state is at the rise. However, from other Sunni heartlands information is difficult to gather due to the stronghold of ISIS and other militia there. The Shiite majority areas are aiming towards over throwing the militancy to safeguard their civilisation.

Reports of crimes, such as persecution of Shias, have begun to come in and videos have been uploaded depicting brutal massacres taking place. For the ISIS, this Kurdish region was already a breeding ground for militants as conservative Sunni Iraqis from here have always been inclined to join the ISIS’s ranks in Syria.

Keeping all these varying developments in mind, the significance of the aforementioned speech come into view. In the south, the mood has changed significantly after the Karbala sermon. I was awestruck at the zeal and passion that I experienced in Karbala over the speech. Karbalai’s words have left an impression and impact on the streets of Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad. There is a sense of unity in the people here and they are preparing for a fight for what is rightfully theirs.

But behind this rhetoric is also a lack of acceptance by the Sunnis that Shias make an overwhelming majority in Iraq; an understanding that leadership, through a democratic system, has not been acceptable to the Sunnis because Shias make an overwhelming majority. Some regional countries also want to break Iraq into three or four separate states.

In the Kurdish and the Shia-majority regions, life retains an uneasy spirit of normalcy, mainly because the real battle has not begun yet. The Iraqi army has taken some key border posts between Syria and Iraq in recent days and there are rumours that a build-up of the Iraqi army for an assault on the ISIS has begun. Inner cities are still fairly safe. As a result, Sunni majority areas that were close to the border are coming under siege. This is particularly true for Ramadi and Fallujah, which have always been targeted in almost every war that Iraq has come across, and this time is no different. For these areas, destruction seems to have become a norm.

I came to Iraq and found that the country has great potential. There are opportunities in this country that one cannot even imagine. There is a lot to do on multiple fronts including economy and education. During all this turmoil, I see the younger Iraqi lot acting with wisdom. They seem as tired of this directionless corrupt game of politics as they are of the militancy that is taking place in the country. They understand that what is happening today is a regional scheme that is strategically planned, funded and orchestrated. In fact, from the north to the south, Iraqis on the whole are wise people, and I suppose it is this natural wisdom that will help them get through these dark times.

This wisdom will help them fend-off a militancy that now endangers its integrity. This is not just about the integrity of a nation now but the completeness of a civilisation. The gardens of Babylon in Hillah, Iraq, are the emblems of its rich history. I have no fear of living in Iraq because the message from Sistani, a source of emulation for the majority of Iraqi Shias, is balanced and intelligent. He is already counselling this nation about the importance of forming a new government to remedy the mistakes of the past. And I would like to be here when we rise to make Iraq stand on its two feet again.

Iraq may not be a symbol of unity at the moment, but we will get there – even if we have to fight for it.

Mohammad Ali

Mohammad Ali

An MBA from IBA who passionately follows politics in the Middle East. He has over eight years of experience in policy, management and strategy. He currently works and lives in Iraq.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Haider

    I am living in basra Sunnis are here living a normal life as shias… its not a civil war or sectarian war…. Those who enjoyed luxuries in the times of saddam again need lions share in all resources that’s why this all hue & cry is.. this was supported by syria ISIS extremists & regional powers who dont have any relationship with Iraqi govt.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Defeating ISIS is necessary for survival of Iraq,whole middle east,even Afghanistan and Pakistan,actually the whole world.You can not have criminals,robbers and murderers on loose.There loose and luxurious lifestyle on others’ money will attract more people of similar bent from the whole world.Who wants to work if one can rob banks,and kill whoever opposes their stealing and violence.Recommend

  • qwerty

    What did I just read ? This is the Shiite version? Tribune please allow the other side of the story as well.Recommend

  • Sami

    Dear Writer,

    Why didn’t you mention in the article about the behavior of Nour-Al-Maliki Govt towards enemy. You know why the people of northern Iraq joined the ISIL because they have been completely sidelined by Shia led gov in Baghdad.

    You have writen this article just in the defense of Shia but mark my words, ISIL will capture most of Iraq and form and independent state of Sunnis..Recommend

  • Osama Al-Lehybi

    Great article!
    an exact description for the current political situation.
    We are lucky because we have won a cultured man and lover of this country.

    hope you all the best in your second country #Iraq.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    What we don’t want to see Shias and Sunni start a new religious strife. It is in nobody’s interested . Shias being in majority will come out as winner militarily but that would be a hollow victory because many civilians would die in the war of attrition. Iraq needs to build a pluralistic society based on democratic principal laid out by USA. Democracy mean majority rule but with a caveat that protects the right of minorities and provide space for them to highlight the legitimate grievances and listen to them and then act upon it.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    Demographic statistics of Iraq.

    Shias – 65-70%
    Sunnis (non-Kurds) – 15-20%
    Kurds (Sunnis) -10-15%
    Christians -2-5%

    Sunnis are not majority in Iraq. That’s a fact. You can disagree with the numbers in percentage as they are within standard deviation of statistical error.Recommend

  • Kami

    I am not hopeful about Iraq’s future.

    If Iraqi young people know the games (conspiracies) and are fed up, that doesn’t matter. Their country will fall into the hands of International powers again and again and again (if any doubt read history and views of Muslims throughout that periods). ‘Wise words’ and ‘speeches’ don’t do anything unless an action is taken.Recommend

  • Sonya

    I was there too but when they captured Faluja. What we need to understand that this is not a sunni vs shia war, the state funded BBC and other western arab networked media want to show it as such. Iraqis rightly consider ISIS as foreign terrorists backed by mainly US attacking their homeland and they are getting united to confront them. ISIS seems to be killed in Iraq because their supports will be frustrated soon.Recommend

  • Pakvoice

    The Kurds fully deserve Kirkuk. Even Sunni Arabs and Turkmen want them there. The Iraqi army ran away from ISIS. So why should the Kurds leave Kirkuk, when the Iraqi army left it. Look at how the Kurds have run their part of the country, after being brutally suppressed by Saddam and look at how Al Maliki has run the rest of Iraq. Kurdistan is NOT a breeding ground for extremists, most of them are not highly conservative sunnis, it has the lowest poverty rates in Iraq, and not a single foreigner or coalition soldier has been kidnapped since the 2003 invasion. The kurds should not be included in the ARAB sunni/shia rivalry. They have nothing to do with it. On the whole they tend to be very tolerant and peaceful, ask your friend in erbil. Its a shame that with even more oil and gas wealth in the south of Iraq, compared to Kurdistan, still very little has been done in mainland Iraq for the people. Unspeakable levels of corruption. Nouri Al Maliki must resign and the Kurds must get their independence.Recommend

  • Mosul

    On ground realities show that ISIS believe this is a sunni shia war, and have demonstrated that, regardless of what the BBC say. Iraq had many sectarian killings since the US invasion too, many committed by shia as well as sunni. The US is helping out Nouri al Maliki militarily. Iran has even encouraged US support of Al-Malikis regime. So either you follow Sadr’s idea that no US military should aid Iraq or you follow the Al Maliki regime/Iraqi army which wants US aid ASAP. From what i can see the only ones who are frustrated are the Iraqi army, at how this small group took half of the country! ISIS has grown from strength to strength. And the incompetent shiite led Nouri Al Maliki regime has utterly failed, not just here, but on all fronts, especially with regards to the economy.Recommend

  • Quell

    They wont capture most of Iraq, and i say this as a sunni. What ISIS have right now, is about as far as they can get. They wont be able to penetrate the shia areas, or Baghdad in its entirety. Do you really think ISIS could capture Sadr City… No chance, the Americans couldn’t even do it. ISIS has capitalized on sunnis who are disenfranchised with Maliki in the north, sunni triangle, and western sparsely populated areas thats all. No way do ISIS take any territory in the south, not a chance. Neither do they take an inch of Kurdish soil.Recommend

  • Dajjal

    “I live in Iraq and I am not afraid”

    Of course you are not, if you want to visit a horror show… come live in Pakistan…Recommend

  • Sonya

    If the US doesn’t lik Nouri Al Maliki, who cares, his party has secured more votes in April’s undisputed election this year than the last elections. The Iraqis don’t care what ISIS believe (a bunch of about 15000 depressed people from across Europe and other Arab countries) and what people like you think – What I know from sunni friends in Iraq that Iraqis are united to kill them – they want to sort out their internal differences later.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    You are not afraid in Iraq …. you must be from Liyari !!!Recommend

  • khuzdari

    Divide and rule, this is neo-colonialism.Recommend

  • khuzdaei

    Actually no, the Kurds are turning into ethnofascistsRecommend

  • Master Yoda

    “I live in Iraq and I am not afraid”

    You Will BE… YOU WILL BE!!Recommend

  • unbelievable

    “Iraqis rightly consider ISIS as foreign terrorists backed by mainly US attacking their homeland”

    Yeah right — classic anti American blather that lacks facts and in this case even common sense.Recommend

  • unbelievable

    Maliki and his anti Sunni, anti Kurd polices is the core issue in Iraq – one of those Elephant in the Room things the author apparently can’t see.Recommend

  • Pakvoice1

    Muqtadas Army is not fascist? Saddam was not a fascist? what happened in halabja was not ethnofascism? Treatment of Kurds by Arabs is/was not fascism? I wonder why so many Arabs live in Erbil, if kurds are so ethnofascist? and so many more are migrating to Erbil due to Gulf backed ISIS assault? (look at the pics online) I wonder why turkmen from Kirkuk are joining the peshmerga? (Read the news) and why Christian Iraqis from Mosul are going to Kurdistan….. Sunni arab (Gulf backed) killing shia arab (Iran backed), all around Iraq for years, yet Kurds are the problem! Kurdistan is the only sane and safe area of Iraq. This is proven by facts, before and after current events. When they retook kirkuk, they didnt slaughter the turkmen and arabs, unlike ISIS in Tal Afar. What would Saddam have done? Iraqi army ran from Kirkuk, they have proven their incompetence, they didnt even defend Kirkuk, and thus cannot guarantee security for the people. So, actually Yes, Kurds deserve and will get their own state, with Turkmen and minorities living with full rights (Which Kurds fully support). And they have already proven it. Better to be under sane and tolerant kurds than the rest of Iraq, which has a govt which cannot even guarantee the peoples security and safety, and has surrendered half of the country.Recommend

  • AAhmed

    What stops you to not get divided?Recommend

  • stevenson

    Do you think that there is any comparison between the level of savagery and turmoil going on in Iraq with Pakistan? Hardly. Pakistan is fighting terrorists but most of the country and not just Punjab is relatively safe. You can’t compare the mass killings in Iraq and Syria to the sporadic violence in Pakistan. You are making a mockery of the daily mass killings in Iraq which are much more than any other Muslim country. If you don’t believe this, go there to Iraq and see for yourself.Recommend

  • siesmann

    So they are foreign backed and funded ,who want to eject foreigner from their land?Isn’t that a contradiction.?Sunni-Shia problem is over 1000 years old,and there is nothing being done by the Ulema to do something about it.Indeed it is being perpetuated by them further.iraq problem is there because Sunnis want to rule over Shiite majority,and Shiite majority doesn’t want to even give them a fair share of representation.ISIS is using this rift for their own murderous agenda.But they will be defeated eventually as people of perverted ideologies do in the end.Iraq will suffer in the meanwhile,and unfortunately have to pay a heavy price for it.Recommend

  • Oats

    You don’t know what horror show is then. Watch Iraqi suffering on TV. Recommend

  • Dajjal

    “You are making a mockery of the daily mass killings in Iraq”

    Too Soon??Recommend