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Outside View: Holy Terror in Iraq

By MUAZZAM GILL, A UPI Outside View   |   Sept. 24, 2004 at 1:40 PM
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ANAHEIM HILLS, Calif., Sept. 24 (UPI) -- With sickening regularity the beheadings of civilians involved in humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq continue to define Islamists and their totally destructive jihadist ideology.

The videos of hooded tormenters, kneeling victims, hate-filled declarations and the calculated savagery of the killings is aimed to shock, demoralize, and sow division within and between Western and Muslim countries and to provoke retaliation.

Even in a world that has become all too used to atrocity, the latest beheadings are dreadful. However, this dreadfulness is only meaningless rhetoric without a clear knowledge of the perpetrators, their motives, organization, and above all, the mindset that defines their motives.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and members of his Tawhid wa al-Jihad group are believed to have carried out the latest murders. They demanded the release of two women prisoners from Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr prisons. The women, both scientists, were involved in Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. One of the detainees is Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, a biological weapons scientist nicknamed "Dr. Germ." She is said to have carried out top-secret work during the 1980s on germs that cause botulism poisoning and anthrax infections. The other woman, Dr. Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash is a biotech researcher known as "Mrs. Anthrax" and "Chemical Sally," who was on the U.S. military's list of the 55 most-wanted members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The head of the Tawhid al-Jihad is Iraq's most-wanted man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He was imprisoned in Jordan during the early 90s. Zarqawi has been linked with both al-Qaeda and the Ansar al-Islam movement in northern Iraq. According to knowledgeable sources, many attacks, including the killing of around 185 Shiite worshippers celebrating the religious festival of Ashura in Karbala and Baghdad, bear Zarqawi's operational trademark. The United States has vowed to capture Zarqawi, offering a multi-million dollar reward for information leading to his death or capture.

The ideology of al-Tawhid al-Jihad, which means Unity and Holy War, is similar to that of al-Qaeda, but focused on Iraq. An extremist, fundamentalist Sunni group, it sees itself engaged in a struggle against American "crusaders" contrasting the strict monotheism of Islam with the "polytheist" Christian Trinity.

They perceive the invasion of Iraq as a step towards a Greater Israel, and reject Shiite Muslims as "al-Rafidah" or rejectionists. They view the Kurds as enemies, partly because of their alleged links with Jewish interests. Al-Tawhid al-Jihad justify the beheading of foreign hostages, with the Koranic verse: "Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers, smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly [on them]."

The group is thought to have only a few hundred members, but is considered highly dangerous. In May 2004, the group announced it had joined forces with another Islamist organization, the Salafiah al-Mujahidiah group of Abu-Dajanah al-Iraqi. Since then the group has claimed responsibility for the killing of Izzedin Salim, the chairman of the dissolved Governing Council of Iraq, as well as several other members of the interim administration. They have also threatened to kill Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

These and other apparently loosely-allied groups should not be perceived as just local gangs sheltering under Islamic semantics to spin a fast buck at the expense of innocent lives. They are linked by the fundamentals of their belief and guided by their centuries old politico-religious ideology. They perceive the American forces in Iraq as occupiers and not liberators.

The Muslim approach to foreign domination is the notion that Islam provides the guiding light for unity, despite theological divergence. This approach took on new appeal as religious fundamentalism was encouraged by the U.S. all over the world as an effective force to combat secular communism. With the threat of global communism subsiding after the Cold War, the special relationship between the U.S. and Islamists no longer exists.

Flushed with success against the Soviet Union, the protégés turned on the United States -- their principal patron -- calling it the next obstacle to an Islamic World Order.

Osama bin Laden, formed al-Qaeda mostly from a guerrilla force sponsored and trained originally by the U.S. in Afghanistan to oppose the Soviet-backed communist Afghan government. Arab fundamentalism has been centered in Saudi Arabia, where the state religion is Wahhabism, an extreme form of Sunni Islam fundamentalism. Wahhabis oppose communism as a profane ideology formulated by a German Jew (Karl Marx); Baathism: another profane ideology formulated by an Arab Christian (Michel Aflak): and Pan-Arabism: a secular ideology that denies in their view both the truth faith and tribal culture. The Wahhabis believe it was God's will to reveal the Koran in Saudi Arabia and therefore blessed the Kingdom, the true defender of the faith, with oil, gold and tribal harmony.

Non-Arab Islamic fundamentalism of the Shiite kind, as espoused by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, mistrust both Arab nationalism and Arab Islamic Sunni fundamentalism as parochial and anti-progressive philosophies to the point of being obstructionist against true Islamic faith and holy justice. This ideological conflict between Arab nationalism and Shiite Islamic fundamentalism was a major cause for the decade-long Iran-Iraq war, in which Saudi Arabia, despite its opposition to Arab nationalism, provided substantial financial aid to Baathist Iraq because the Saudis, who are fundamentalist Sunnis, consider fundamentalist Shiitism an enemy worse than secular Arab nationalism.

Thus, the atrocities in Iraq cannot be simplistically written off as the acts of mercenary headhunters.

Dismissing a terrorist group on the grounds that its rationality differs from their own is something that the United States and the West can ill-afford to do if they also hope to defuse the threat posed by religious terrorism. Likewise, insisting that religious terrorists such as al-Qaida are fighting the United States because of a hatred of liberty, freedom, or the American way of life is of no use in countering them, even though it may be a comforting thought. Indeed, it may even prove counterproductive. Understanding one's enemy is a prerequisite to victory -- an ageless challenge to take the measure of generalship.

As the U.S. National Commission on Terrorism put it: "Today's terrorists don't want a seat at the table, they want to destroy the table and everyone sitting at it."


9Muazzam Gill is a news analyst and vice-president of the American leadership institute.


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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