A Muslim Must Fight

Arab volunteers outside Baghdad prepare for the American advance
Arab volunteers outside Baghdad prepare for the American advance, March 17, 2003 (Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP).

Arab volunteers want to fight and die a self-inflicted death in Saddam Hussein’s defense. Six thousand fighters from Arab countries have made their way into Iraq, say Iraqi officials. Half of them are ready for death by suicide. This may mean that a slew of attacks, so far associated only with the occupied territories, may await the Americans and the British
in Iraq. The Islamic clergymen in Baghdad—Sunni as well as Shiite—increasingly call for a jihad, a holy war against evil. The clergy stand before their congregations with a copy of the Quran in one hand and a rifle in the other. They speak of killing soldiers and civilians, of the praiseworthy suicide attacks.

“I commend this way. We have been invaded and we must defend ourselves. When the enemy enters your home and wants to murder your family, you defend yourself any way you can,” says Imam Abbas al-Kilidar, one of the most prominent spiritual leaders of the Shiites in Iraq. He believes in Iraq’s victory, because “God supports the Iraqi nation.” He explains that the Americans and the British support the war and back [their] armies, therefore every civilian becomes the enemy as well. He proclaims this during the prayers, and urges [the people] to sacrifice lives.

We say: “The Shiites’ situation in Iraq is not quite clear. After Operation Desert Storm in 1991, there was a Shiite uprising. Now Americans expect to be received as liberators in the south of the country.”

“This will not happen again. Now the Shiites are fighting the Americans. The south of Iraq is our homeland, our home, and every Muslim goes to arms. There is no difference between the Sunni and the Shiite. What happened years ago was inspired by the United States. The instigators of the uprising were sent from Iran. This will not happen again. The Iraqi people have awakened. No foreigner will tell us how to live our lives.”

“Volunteers come to Iraq, but there is no unity in the Arab world, there are countries that support U.S. policy—Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar…”

“They are not Muslims. Every government supporting the Americans and every Muslim helping them renounces his religion.” The Arab volunteers agree. Another unit arrived in Baghdad from Yemen. They maintain they number a few thousand, but so far we have met only several of them. They wear plain uniforms, they cover their faces with scarves, and they don’t want to give their names. They offer assurances in Arabic and broken English: “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Iraqi brothers and fight against the enemies of Iraq, the Arab world, and Islam.” They chant the same slogans as Iraqi ruffians—about their love for Hussein and hatred of America and George Bush.

“Bush is a dog. Look at him on television, showing off with his family and his dogs; he likes dogs because he is a dog himself !” yells a 40-year-old Yemeni. He is seconded by a teenager wielding a Kalashnikov.

The siege of Baghdad has not started yet, but it has already made a mark on the life of almost every family. Sons, husbands, and brothers are serving in the army, the Republican Guard, or the paramilitary police. 

Borough of Al-Khadraa, Arabic for “green”: Bakar Mortabu Hamudi is watching television. It is yet another speech by the information minister. He is sipping sweet coffee brought to him by his young granddaughter. We ask about his son, a soldier at the military base Al-Rashid, the largest military complex in Baghdad. He assures us he does not fear for him. He merely shrugs when we tell him that the Americans are approaching the city and may attack the base anytime. “God decides when to take a life; one cannot escape death.” He says this calmly, but he adds that he will not let the enemy approach his house. Americans are weak, therefore he will fight them. He will not let them come inside the house. This nearly 60-year-old man does not have a rifle, but he has a stick. Bakar’s wife quietly listens to the conversation.

The city is hit by an increasing number of missiles. It is impossible in this war to anticipate the next move of either side. Bakar knows that once the war begins in earnest, he will not be able to see his son. Maybe ever.