Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Iyad Jamal Al-Deen
Yesterday I was invited by Iyad Jamal Al-Deen to his home in the affluent Karada district in central Baghdad. Despite living in a palace (which previously belonged to Izzat Ibrahim Al-Duri), we sat and had dinner in his 'mudheef', a traditional Arab reception house for guests made entirely from straw that is lined with cushions. His hospitality is well known in Baghdad; unlike other Iraqi politicians holed up in the Green Zone, his mudheef is open to guests who come from as far away as Basra and Amara to discus current affairs. Food, politics and a constant supply of black coffee is always on the menu.
It is not his expensive watches, designer sunglasses, Italian shoes and Cuban cigars that separate Jamal Al-Deen from your average Shia cleric. It is his secular beliefs. Although he is considered a liberal, open and moderate cleric by the west, he is considered extreme in the eyes of his fellow Najaf and Qum graduates who feel he is harming the religion. He however states “I call for secularism in order to protect this religion”.
His public praise of America and his calls to the Arab world to learn lessons from Israel is what raised the eyebrows of many conservative clerics, Sunni and Shia, around the world. As a secular Shia cleric he is vehemently against the idea of Wilayate Faqih, which is the foundation on which the Islamic Republic of Iran was built on. It is not only his life-style and secular beliefs which are frowned upon by his peers, it is his political alliance with Iyad Allawi, who heads the Iraqi National List, a group that consists of many former ba’athists.
We discussed many issues, including the militias, the new political front his list is heading and the MKO. Regarding the militias, Jamal Al-Deen confessed that he had advised Iyad Allawi to “either to create a militia of our own or disband the others” because “the most powerful political parties in Iraq are those with the most powerful militia”. The Americans would not allow the INA to have its own militia “but we should have created one anyway”.
In Najaf two days earlier, I had heard from another politician that Iyad Allawi was going to announce a new political front which consists of the Iraqi National List, Tawafuq Front, Fadhila Party and Sadr Movement. I was surprised because Allawi fought the Sadrists who despise him to this day for his attack on the Mehdi Army in Najaf in 2004. So I asked Jamal Al-Deen why Allawi wants to deal a dead card with the Sadrists in hopes of gaining political power to which he replied “This is not about the groups, we cannot have an alliance with them because our ideas are totally different with theirs, especially the Sadrists. The new front is open to individuals who wish to join our movement regardless from which party they belong to”.
I asked him if he had heard that the MKO had been declassified as a terrorist group by the British government. “Yes and the Americans will also follow shortly…God willing”. It was the “God willing” finish that surprised me. In May 1982 during the Iraq-Iran war Ayad Jamal Al-Deen was almost assassinated by the MKO in Iran. Three of his friends accompanied him on his way to visit Iraqi POW’s when MKO gunmen saw the clerics and riddled their car with bullets. His friends were killed instantly but Jamal Al-Deen survived. He played dead and lay in a pool of his own blood for several minutes before the gunmen, believing their targets had all been killed, fled.
It was because of this I bluntly asked him “Why God willing? Didn’t they try to kill you?”. He replied “Yes, but the Iranians must be punished for their support of militias in Iraq. An eye for an eye. We need to support the MKO, and I am their biggest supporter here in Iraq, and unleash them on Iranian soil if the Iranian government does not stop the funding and supply of weapons to militias in Iraq”.
In this case, my enemy who is an enemy of my enemy is also my friend. But it makes sense, maybe Tehran will think twice about exporting death to the streets of Baghdad when Baghdad starts to export death to the streets of Tehran.