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IRAQ: Secular or religious?

It was right to demonize Saddam Hussein, but we should remember that the Baath Party wanted a secular state like Turkey, a country we are now holding up as a model for Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld has said that the US would not tolerate in Iraq a regime like that in Iran, but what that will mean remains to be seen. Reuters (28/4/03) tells us that "A Cleric calls on Iraqis to reject US 'tyrants'. A senior Sunni Muslim cleric urged Iraqis to reject the US presence in their country and likened it to the "tyranny" of Saddam Hussein. Sheikh Moayyad Ibrahim al-Aadhami also told scores of worshippers at the Abi Hanifah Nouman mosque in Baghdad that Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims should shun sectarian divisions and live in harmony. Although Sheikh al-Aadhami's sermon was milder than the fiery, anti-US rhetoric of some previous sermons, his words reflected the anger many Iraqis feel at what they regard as the US occupation of their country. "Let's say no to America, no to the occupation. We won't replace one tyrant with another," Sheikh al-Aadhami said at Friday prayers. "We want a people that enjoys security... We want a Muslim people that has equal rights and duties, that groups Arabs, Kurds, and other minorities. We want a people not split by sectarianism, with Sunnis and Shi'ites standing hand in hand." Shi'ite Muslims make up 60 per cent of Iraq's population of about 26 million people but were repressed under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim. Some Sunnis fear the Shi'ites will try to concentrate power in their hands and dominate postwar Iraq. Thousand of Iraqis - Sunnis and Shi'ites alike - have staged anti-US protests since the US-led invasion, expressing the hope that the US will not force their will on the country. Outside the mosque, which was bombed during the war, residents of Baghdad's Aadhamiya area had strung up banners reading: "Pull out the tanks, don't provoke the people." Many Iraqis are bitter at the US for failing to prevent the anarchy and looting that followed the bombing of Baghdad. Armed gangs still roam free in the Iraqi capital, museums and libraries have been plundered, and essential services remain patchy. Jay Garner, the retired general overseeing the reconstruction of Iraq, visited Baghdad this week and promised Iraqis a "government by Iraqis", but he did not say when it would be formed". RH: Rumsfeld produced a group of Iraqis and praised them. They were apparently Iraqi exiles who will take part in the rebuilding of Iraq.

Ronald Hilton - 4/28/03