A Kazimiya Political Sermon

A Kazimiya Preacher’s Perspective on Basra
Translated by Nathaniel Rabkin

What follows is a sermon given by Jalal al-Din al-Saghir in the Buratha Mosque on Friday, March 21. Jalal al-Din al-Saghir is the preacher and prayer leader of the Buratha mosque in Baghdad’s Kazimiya neighborhood. He is also a leadership figure in the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly known as SCIRI). The sermon was posted on the internet at: http://www.burathanews.com/news_article_38145.html

There are a number of topics which I cannot avoid discussing, and one of these is the nature of the crimes being committed in the city of Basra. Security statistics show that between 25 and 30 murders are committed every day in Basra. Who is doing this? Murders don’t come out of a vacuum, nor are they the work of demons. Unfortunately, we have leaders of the security forces who have not just disappointed us, but who have betrayed our trust in them. We put the lives and the honor of the people in their hands, and now here we are in this present situation.

There can be no doubt at all that there is plan to destroy the city of Basra. One doesn’t need to make a great effort to understand why people want to destroy Basra, especially since the hands of a number of countries are stained with the blood of Basrans, mixed with the blood of people of other provinces. But Basra’s stability and security have been targeted in particular because these countries have ports, oil, and investments built on the premise of Basra’s ruin. So it’s not strange at all if the United Arab Emirates of Saudi Arabia, who would be seriously affected if Basra’s oil pipelines came back on line, why shouldn’t they pay 200 or 300 million dollars to these gangs in order to save billions of dollars for themselves? Just to make things clear, a lot of the investments in the Gulf these days are Iraqi investments. Why? Because Iraq is unstable and insecure, and people who have money are running away – after all, capital is a coward – it’s natural that these countries, when they see a political leadership which thinks in terms of investment, which is capable of turning Iraq into one of the paradises of global investors – they’re not going to get this money, and we’re talking about tens of billions if not hundreds of millions, not small sums.

I’ve mentioned before that Iraq’s oil doesn’t guarantee us our quota in OPEC. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait have raised their quotas a lot. They use the excuse that Iraq’s production hasn’t reached the expected level, so they have to increase their quotas. What does this mean? It means that hundreds of billions of dollars are flowing into these people’s coffers, which means that we’re losing hundreds of billions of dollars. So is 200 or 300 million dollars really so much for these countries to pay to the gangs?

Maybe the foreign ministers will come out and say “no, we’re not like that.” So we say to them, “ask your intelligence agencies!” Let the honorable president of the UAE go and ask Sheikh Huzaa what he is doing in Basra, Ammara, and Nasiriyah! Let his highness King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia ask Prince Muqrin what he is doing in our territory! The list is long and wide, and if I wanted I could name many names, and we have very many documents as well.

O people of Basra, you have been sentenced to death because of your oil. Those who oversee the execution are the gangs which appear sometimes veiled in patriotism, sometimes in religion, and at other times in all kinds of false slogans. Always what is wanted of you is that you remain poor, exploited, and wretched so that these countries can take what is good out from under your feet.

Every so often the police chief and others, even the Chief of Operations, say “it’s the political parties that are engaged in destruction and murder.” If so, why don’t you go and arrest them? What’s your job if you sit around talking politics? You’re not politicians, you’re security men. One day the police chief decides to print up posters with a big picture of him, with “Wait! I’m Coming to Defend You” written beneath. Where did the money come from to print these posters? Your job is security, so what caused you to enter politics? I’m not involved with security, so why are you involved in politics? If politics and security mix, then both are lost. If you want to be a politician, go ahead, it’s your right, but first resign your security position and leave it for someone else.

We know how things work. There are two kinds of parties. There are parties which created the country and stood it up on its own two feet, and there are parties which came or were brought into being for the sake of destruction. And now people come and smear all of the parties. Of course, they mean the big parties, not the little ones which were created for the sake of destruction, since, thank God, these parties have faced no opposition from anyone.

So now I ask the Basra security command: Who amongst you has gone to al-Ashur and the other ports? Let me talk about names. Who went there and put people back in their place? The smuggling of oil and public property, the theft of public property, who’s doing all this? They’re well known, so why don’t you go and arrest them? There’s something very important going on now. I’m certain that the Prime Minister will fulfill his the role we expect of him with all necessary force and aptitude. But we need our brothers in Basra to rise up and say “no!” to all this corruption and destruction. Silence won’t bring anything. We need a firm decision to put an end to the destruction of Basra. Right now we have official ports and unofficial ports. Corruption is everywhere.

Three days ago, there were a few small boats that one of the maritime police commanders seized. Some people came and said: “these are our poor brothers, let them go.” Police chief, how can these be our brothers when they suck our blood and eat our flesh? What sort of brother would do this to us? When you talk to them, they say “we’re deprived, we’ve been wronged, and besides, the sect [madhhab, i.e., Shi’ite solidarity] is the most important thing,” and so on. We say: No! The sect doesn’t want you! It doesn’t need a thief, even if he wears a turban, and even if he wears a hundred turbans! It’s a plague on the sect that these people call themselves a part of it. We don’t need a thief, rather, our religion and our sect are against anyone who grabs even one cent of the people’s money or from the public coffers.

So now I call on my dear brothers, followers of the Marjaiyah [Shi’ite religious authority], tribal sheikhs, and upstanding people, to take responsibility and to let their voice be heard. The state has to protect their voice, and not make do with dismissing this or that official. What is needed is to strike with an iron hand against whoever thinks of interfering with Basra’s security and stability.

Things are going on in Basra, people are invited to the embassies of certain countries, and hosted in certain countries for the purpose of destroying Basra. But God is our witness that we won’t be silent. I give warning that our patience has its limits. We can’t take it any more, and I tell the Prime Minister that if any law breaker is struck, we will protect the security agencies which are doing the striking. We will defend them, even if some of our members are the ones violating the law. Go and hit them, put them in jail regardless of who they are or who sent them, so that people will understand the lies being bantied about.

These lies are usually directed at the best and most noble of people, they say “this group is the one stealing, this organization is the one stealing.” Good, we have opened a case, go and arrest them whoever they are. And let me say that if the Supreme Council [ISCI] or its officials, or the Badr Organization or its officials, or the Sayyid al-Shuada [Master of Martyrs] Movement, or Hizbullah of Iraq, or any of their officials are the ones breaching security, then go and hit them and we will help you do it.

The other issue is the problem of financial and administrative corruption in the government. We’ve talked about it a lot, and everyone’s talking about it. This year has been declared the year of striking these people. We’re still hoping for the ministers to show their power and strike those who are destroying the country and stealing the people’s money. Corruption hasn’t just roosted in one ministry, but rather in all of them with a single exception. We need real measures to show these corrupt people that the government is able to strike them and those who gave them power over the people. Administrators and officials are involved, as well as others, and we need to see the names and see them sent to court, or sent into retirement, or expelled or removed. Otherwise, all of our words are just hot air. Corruption has taken a lot of forms, it doesn’t just mean taking money directly, there are a lot of ways to take money. Corruption is not just taking the money, it’s also interfering with development and with the government’s work in the name of the law, in the name of regulations, and so on.

Let me give you an example: the Ministry of Development and Housing. The Minister, may God preserve her, is a Kurd. She says “come to Kurdistan, look at how we’ve developed our provinces, why don’t you let me do the same thing for your benighted provinces.” The government set aside money a long time ago to build new housing complexes, but every day there’s a new obstacle from the Building Committee of some ministry or other, always in the name of the law, the regulations, and so on. But the same forces that make our ears ring with their talk of good governance, are the ones who stand behind this.

They bring in a contractor to do the work, and then after a while they say “no we don’t want it this way, we want it some other way.” So the contractor says “Fine, I’ll give you what you want, but I already spent money, so who will compensate me?” They say “that’s not our business.” And what’s really at issue isn’t how it’s done, really the message is “abandon this contract so that someone else can get it.” And if I wanted I could name names, in the Ministry of Development and Housing, in the Ministry of Oil, in the Ministry of Local Administration, in the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Electricity, and all of the others. We have the names. You have to go so that the new order can arise. We want development, and the people want development, and you won’t allow it (here the crowd interrupted with applause and chants of “Yes, yes, development!” But his excellency cut them off and continued speaking)

This spirit is the spirit of the old Baathists, which controls certain institutions in the Ministry of the Treasury, the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Local Administration, the Ministry of Housing and Development [sic], and the Ministry of Oil. This spirit has to go. We’re not unaware of what’s happening, but we have a number of issues to present. The most important was security, and now the struggle against corruption and sabotage, which we’ve suffered a lot of damage from. The people imagine that we’re the ones who aren’t doing anything, but there’s a group of mercenaries who were put into the government offices because of the despicable administrative system, and the result is what you see. The Baathists are the ones who control the country’s development, and we’re paying the price. Imagine, the Ministry of Development and Housing is controlled by the same apparatus that used to control the presidential palaces. Do you think they’re going to build anything for you? They see the contractors getting billions and they’re just getting basic salaries, why shouldn’t they get a contract? Why shouldn’t they put out their hands and say “scratch our backs and we’ll scratch yours.” A contractor told me “I had a contract for 23 billion dinars with one of the ministries. They came and put pressure on me to pay them 37 billion dinars. I said “tell me 23 billion dinars and I’d be able to pay, but 37 billion, I’d have to pay the difference out of my pocket.” They said “we’re never going to let your contract move forward.” And they didn’t. So let the Prime Minister and the inspectors come and investigate why these projects aren’t being completed and where the problem is. The people should know the truth. The people are filled with good will, but they don’t know who is responsible, they assume it’s the Minister, or some particular group. Go out and tell them what the problem really is. This is another issue we have to deal with. Thank God, the militias have withdrawn from the streets, and day by day their impact lessons. I ask God to save us entirely from their evil in every place, so that Iraq can breath and repair itself. Iraq’s budget is 49 billion dollars, and the people don’t see any of it - what sort of crime is this?

Some officials flex their muscles. They say “I am so honest, I returned some of the budget to the government. God’s curse be upon every official who returns even a cent of what we give him to the government! Yes, there are real obstacles which the Prime Minister, the Minister of Planning, and the head of the Economic Committee have to deal with, and thank God, some of the right steps have been taken and we see that contracts are being settled more quickly. But it’s not right that money gets sent back. I don’t consider it honest to return money, but I would kiss your hand if you went and spent these billions which we gave you through the Parliament and turned them into buildings, into pipelines, into facilities and agencies and houses and streets and so on. This is what the people want and this is what we want, and otherwise we wouldn’t have given these big sums to these various individuals. I hope that the Prime Minister will deal with these two issues. He is a man who takes this issue seriously, and God knows this. I say that we will give him our complete support, and if necessary we will lay down our lives so that development can move forward.

The third issue is the issue of the Provincial Councils. Some rumors have been spread by some of those who rob the provinces, prevent reconstruction, and prevent law enforcement in these provinces. They’ve gone and shown their muscles, to accuse us of having used undue pressure. But the people know the truth well, and know that this is just empty talk. We say that the law of the provinces [i.e., federalism?] is an essential matter, and we didn’t put it into this law, but rather we put it in when we were writing the Constitution. The resulting conflict has led the Presidency to block this law. The conflict is over whether or not we will give the provinces the prerogatives which the Constitution provides for them or not. This is the conflict, and after the objections were read by the speaker of Parliament, they said that the objections were real and that they relate to the Constitution, we had two choices: either to block the law, and there would be those who would keep deceiving the people, to say “the Supreme Council [ISCI] has six provinces, and it wants to block the Provinces Law so that it can keep on ruling these provinces.” That’s what they say, but the truth is the opposite, if the law gives the provinces more prerogatives, then that’s in our interest, but do they accept this analysis? Why don’t they fear God? The people can also read and observe, the people aren’t blind. As between being subject to these rumors and moving the law forward, but with the speaker of Parliament promising to present changes to it as soon as possible, of course we prefer the second choice. What has been said over the last two days about Dr. Adil Abd al-Mahdi, God preserve him, being subject to American pressures is just a big, sad, painful lie.

There is a Speaker of Parliament and he has given his written assurance that he will present modifications to Parliament as soon as possible. Where is the American pressure? Let me say this clearly, although the Americans have said more than once that they want particular laws, they have never, as God knows and bears witness, they have never interfered in the shaping of these laws. They want the laws to contribute to the building of the state, they haven’t come and said “we want the Provinces Law to be like this and not like that,” they haven’t said “we want the Justice and Accountability Law to be like this and not like that.” I’m talking about all of these laws here.

But those who want to spread confusion say that we did the Amnesty Law; we say “we’re not the ones who proposed it in the Four Party Alliance, it was our Prime Minister who who proposed it and our Ministers who discussed it, in the absence of those who had withdrawn from the cabinet. Did the General Amnesty Law come to Parliament on its own? Or did the cabinet put it forward? We have made a decision to open up the horizon. We know that some of these people are real criminals, but we want to open up a new space and create a new opportunity. The choices of the rulers are not the same as choices of the ruled. O brothers, the decisions of one who wants to move the country towards maximum security for the maximum number of people are not like the decisions of those who want to take revenge regardless of how many others have to lose their lives. Yes, we know that some of these people are killers and criminals, but how long can the killing go on? As the Prophet of God [Muhammad] has promised us, “the killers fate is to be killed,” and we are sure of this promise.

One last issue remains, the issue of the reconciliation conference, of what came before it, and of the positions taken in this matter by those who withdrew from the cabinet. Firstly, let’s say clearly and openly to the whole world that these people are counting on the Crocker-Petraeus report which will be presented on April 9th, they’re trying to apply pressure so that this report will contain a bad word against the government. This is the whole story. As the report comes closer, we’ll see all kinds of haughty delaying tactics and pointless muscle flexing and the like. This is just an attempt to get the sympathy of the American street. Here we have the representatives of the “honorable” resistance, the oh so honorable resistance who want to block the activities of the reconciliation conference. Why? If you have an opposing view to state, come and state it, who’s stopping you from stating your opinion? Say “I’m sitting down with my brothers, reconciling with my brothers,” and so on.

Now we come to the story of marginalization and the like, which both we and the world have been told so much about. Let’s ask: “what marginalization?” You’re in Parliament, you’re in the cabinet even though you’re the ones who withdrew, you said “we’ve got demands” and we met the demands in as much as they deserved to be met. How can this or that representative of some party or bloc or front come and say “I want my share of security affairs [istihqaqi al-amni], I want to participate in security decisions?” I want to know what it means “your share of security affairs?” They say “I want officers who come from me, division commanders who come from me, let me appoint them by name.” So for example, the Islamic Dawa party comes and says “I want my share of security affairs,” and so does the [Iraqi] Islamic Party [IIP], the Sadrist Bloc, and the Supreme Council [ISCI], and Badr. What would this mean? It means we’d distribute the security forces to the various parties, and what would we have done? We’d have destroyed the country. The parties are prohibited from doing security work, and the security forces can’t engage in party work. This is our Constitution and we want to let our country rise up.

What’s the problem if a Sunni officer wasn’t nominated by the [Iraqi] Islamic Party? What’s the problem if a Shi’ite officer wasn’t appointed by this or that group? Are these parties the only representatives of the Shi’ites and Sunnis? Or are the Shi’ites and Sunnis themselves good people apart from these parties? This is the whole issue. They say “let us put people we name into the security forces.” Ok, if that’s what you want, then we also want to name people and appoint them to the security forces. I want what you want. Do you have eyelashes and we not? [i.e., aren’t we the same?] But the wise decision for building a mindset of national security, and for building security agencies free of quotas and parties and the like, and for preventing militias, is to embrace an ideology of true national loyalty.

Yes, the different segments of society have a right to be represented fairly in the security agencies, there have to be Sunnis and Shi’ites and Kurds and Turkmen and Shabek and Christians in the security agencies. This is everyone’s right. But for you to come from a particular party and say you represent a particular group, this is not how to build security. We can’t build security this way, on the contrary, if we want to destroy our security, then come and give it away to the parties and the political blocs and see how terrible the security situation will get. You want to flee the militias by creating new militias? The claim of marginalization in security affairs is just this, that some official doesn’t have his man in the security services. Well, you’re the one who elected the Prime Minister, who is, according to the Constitution, the commander of the armed forces. If you didn’t trust him, why did you elect him in the first place? And if you do trust him, be quiet! You can watch how things develop and then say “my segment of the population isn’t represented,” but it’s shameful for you to say “my party isn’t represented.” It’s shameful for you to say “my front isn’t represented.” The rest of the people are not all from a party, front, bloc, current, or organization. The security services are for all Iraqis and should represent all Iraqis, of all kinds. I believe that things have to be decided firmly, but if you want to leave it to the parties, then say goodbye to security. I call on the Prime Minister, may God almighty preserve him, to put an end to the farce of withdrawals from the government. They’ve been given extended ultimatums for over a year, and all sorts of proposals have been made. How long will these ministries go without ministers? This has to end. I ask you to announce a specific date on which this will end. Say “I’m going to wait until this day for those who withdrew; if they come back, then welcome, if they don’t then this is Iraq, filled with good people who can be ministers and we’ll have a vote in Parliament.” The Four Party Alliance can lead the vote and put an end to this. The United Iraqi Alliance and its allies can put an end to this while preserving justice for all segments of society. Moreover, this fellow [presumably a reference to Tariq al-Hashimi or Adnan al-Dulaymi] will never be satisfied, because his orders come from abroad. It’s not right for us to wait until this fellow is satisfied or not satisfied, this is the government and its work must go on, this business has to end.

Here I would like to repeat my invitation to the [Iraqi] Islamic Party: My dear brothers, the Four Party Alliance is here in front of you, and you see the result. We’re the ones calling on you to participate in decision making, to participate in forming a vision, and in exchanging points of view. So why this fear and this determination to deprive yourselves of your say, since this government is here to stay? From every direction, people have tried to bring it down, but they’ve failed. So should we just let the people’s interests remain blocked? We won’t allow the government to fall, and I guarantee this. As long as we’re here with this attitude, we won’t let it fall. Thank God, it is strong and has proven its strength. Perhaps there are some problems. Yes, there are problems. But did they find a green oasis to start from? Did they find perfect ministries? Did they start with a perfect political environment? Did they have perfect people? All these things were absent. Yes, we’re suffering as a result of certain measures that have been taken, and we’ve criticized certain measures. So come and criticize and suffer as we suffer, but let us move forward together.

In closing, the people have their rights. If today we can’t get everything that we deserve, let’s be satisfied with what we can get and with time, we’ll get the rest.