Socialist Unity wants to hear from you.
Got a comment?
'The Iraqi resistance is a popular resistance'
An interview with Sheik Jawad Khalisi of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress
by Herbert Docena
ON MARCH 19 LAST YEAR, the eve of the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq
, thousands of Shia Iraqis marched down from their mosque in Khadamiya district
in Baghdad , passed a US military base, and crossed the Tigris river. There they
met thousands of Sunni Iraqis who had marched from their own mosque in another
district to join them.
The show of unity was organized by groups behind the Iraqi National Foundation
Congress (INFC), a broad coalition of Iraqi political forces, which some see as
a possible nucleus for the emergence of a united front against the occupation.
Founded in May 2004, the INFC is an umbrella group that includes leftists,
nationalists, and Islamists from various tendencies who opposed Saddam's regime
and who refused to be part of any US-installed political body. Membership in the
Congress is open to all who subscribe to its minimum bases of unity: an
unequivocal call for the withdrawal of occupation troops and opposition to any
possible division of Iraq 's territory and people on religious or sectarian
Its members include Dr Muthana Harith al Dhari from the Association of Muslim
Scholars, Iraq 's largest network of Sunni clerics, Najaf-based Shia religious
leader Ayatollah Ahmad al Baghdadi, and Wamid Nadhmi, an academic at the Baghdad
University who is the group's spokesman. The al-Sadr movement has a
representative in the general secretariat.
Conscious of the occupiers' strategy of fomenting sectarian strife, the INFC is
a deliberate project to bring together Sunni and Shia Muslims, Arabs, Kurds,
Turcomen, Assyrians and other minorities. The INFC condemned the US-led
offensives against both the mainly Shi'ite city of Najaf and the mainly Sunni
city of Fallujah . It has also been instrumental in defusing sectarian tension
in highly-charged Kirkuk and Mosul .
Claiming to have no armed wing, the INFC explicitly supports the Iraqis' right
to resist “by all means necessary” even as it has condemned beheadings,
hostage-taking, and the killing of non-combatants.
On the sidelines of the recent World Social Forum in Porto Alegre , Brazil , we
spoke with Sheik Jawad al-Khalisi, an influential Shia religious scholar and
political leader who also serves as the INFC's secretary-general. The madrasa
that he administers, an unassuming complex surrounded by narrow, muddy streets,
old houses decked with Arab-style balconies and bazaars, is said to be the
historic birthplace of the resistance to the British occupation in the 1920s. It
has also now become the venue of the INFC's regular meetings.
Herbert Docena: Tell us about the Iraqi National Foundation Congress.
Jawad al-Khalisi: After the invasion of Iraq , the occupation forces occupied
Iraq militarily, economically, and politically. The Iraqi state has been
destroyed. At first, the Iraqi people were shocked. It was necessary to initiate
a national project in order to unite all the forces opposed to the occupation.
That's the main reason why we participated in the elaboration of the Foundation
Congress. In fact, we have been thinking about this project before the invasion.
We planned to transform this project into a reality after the occupation forces
HD: You had a founding conference in May 2004. What has happened since then?
JK: Bit by bit, the Congress has become the main force representing the
opposition to the occupation. It represents opposition using different forms. We
don't have direct contact with the military group of the resistance but these
groups send letters and messages to us. They consider the INFC their political
structure and defend the political positions that the resistance groups are
To give you an example of the effectiveness and representativity of the
Congress, when United Nations special representative Lakhdar Brahimi came to
Iraq , he met with many Iraqi forces and he met the INFC because he considers us
as the main force representing the opposition in Iraq . Concerning the
elections, a call to boycott came from the Congress.
HD: Outside Iraq , we hear of many groups who claim they represent the
resistance. What's your basis for saying you're the political structure
defending the positions of the resistance?
JK: We don't say that we are the political face of the resistance. Firstly, we
are a political structure; we don't have a military wing. But some resistance
groups whom we don't know of say that the positions expressed by the Congress
represent the whole opposition in Iraq – armed and unarmed. Perhaps some other
political groups have relations to the resistance but I think our political
positions represent the Iraqi national consensus.
HD: What are the Congress's main political demands?
JK: We have elaborated a political program and everyone who wants to join has to
accept the points of the program declaration. First, we demand an immediate
retreat of the occupation forces and a complete return of sovereignty to Iraq .
Second, we insist on the unity of the Iraqi territory. Third, we support the
legitimacy of resisting occupation by any means necessary. Fourth, we refuse any
division of the Iraqi people on religious or sectarian basis.
HD: You call for an immediate withdrawal of occupation forces. What do you say
to those who argue that the troops should not be withdrawn yet because there
will be chaos if the troops leave?
JK: We are also afraid of a political vacuum in Iraq . When we say “immediate
retreat of occupation,” we know that this will not happen in one day. But it's
necessary to set a timetable. During the intervening period, the Iraqi police
and army can be built up. In any case, we don't expect things can get much worse
when the occupation troops leave Iraq than what's happening today. What's
happening today is so bad that after the retreat of the occupation forces, the
situation could not be worse.
HD: What about those who are saying there will be civil war when the troops
JK: They are trying to legitimise a long occupation by the United States . They
are puppets of the Americans.
HD: US officials always say that those who are fighting the occupation forces
are “anti-Iraqi” forces” or “Baathist dead-enders” or…
JK: According to the US military, in Fallujah they captured 1,065 people. Among
them, they found only 25 non-Iraqis. All the others were Iraqis. The resistance
is an Iraqi resistance – a popular resistance -- which is spreading now. Among
the resistance groups, there are former officers of the army who are using their
expertise to help the resistance. But the main ideological current inside the
resistance is a popular and moderate Islamic current – not a Baathist one. It is
popular, patriotic, and Islamic.
HD: What do you mean by “popular Islamic”?
JK: That means that the people of Iraq – not necessarily the organized ones or
those who belong to organized political groups – are fighting the occupation at
their own initiative and they generally have a mixture of religious and
patriotic motives for doing so. The American forces dominate the Iraqi nation
and they also have a project that threatens the religious identity of Iraq . The
religious motive is also very strong because people who are fighting militarily
superior forces have more strength when they have a religious conviction that
they are fighting against oppression and that when they die, they'll go to
HD: There are people in the anti-war movement, in the left, and even those in
the right who also oppose the occupation but who say that we shouldn't support
the resistance because they're being led by Baathists and “fundamentalists” and
we shouldn't allow them to take over Iraq if and when the US leaves.
JK: It is the occupation forces who are spreading this line. As one French
deputy said a few months ago, the Iraqi resistance was like the French
resistance: one day it will defeat the occupation forces and take power in Iraq
When I say “Islamic current” inside the resistance, I mean a moderate Islamic
current. It is not the Islamic current portrayed in the media. It is an Islamic
current that is defending it's own culture and nation but which is not hostile
to other cultures and other nations. It is not hostile to the American people
but it is opposed to the project of American domination of our region and the
HD: To what extent are Saddam loyalists and “Islamic hard-liners” engaged in the
JK: I think that they represent only 5% to 10% of the resistance. Of this
fraction, the “Islamic hard-liners” are the majority. Partisans of Saddam have a
very weak participation. However, some Baathists participating in the resistance
and in the political opposition to the occupation are not Saddam loyalists. They
consider Saddam responsible for what happened. They are still attached to the
ideology of the Baath party but they are not Saddam loyalists. They don't want
him to come back to power. Some of them have quit the Baath ideology and they
are against the occupation.
Now, the main focus in Iraq is to fight the occupation. This is the fundamental
question now – transcending ideological and political differences.
HD: How divided are the resistance groups and what are the chances of forming a
united front against the occupation forces?
JK: Iraq 's condition under the occupation doesn't allow for the formation of a
united front now. In one area, you will sometimes find six or seven guerrilla
groups formed by the population to fight the occupation but that are independent
from one another. Sometimes, some problems arise among these groups. After one
year and a half of experience, we are witnessing the combination of different
groups and we think that this coming together will be reinforced in the coming
The operation in Mosul two months ago and the operations last week – when one
American helicopter was shot down and 31 soldiers were killed – signifies that
we are witnessing qualitative developments in the armed struggle.
HD: Do the resistance groups have the support of ordinary Iraqi people?
JK: The main support to resistance actions is given by ordinary people.
HD: The INFC originally said it would participate in the January 30 elections.
However, in the end you decided to boycott. Why?
JK: We said we are going to participate in the election if it were honest and
legitimate. We had conditions and we expressed them in documents we sent to the
United Nations, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. We hoped that the
election commission would take them into account. But, because the commission is
not independent, it didn't.
One of our conditions was a stop to all the military aggression against the
Iraqi people. When the Americans attacked Falluja, it was enough for us to
refuse any participation in the elections.
HD: But there are those who justify their participation in the elections saying
they only took part because it would be the best way to end the occupation.
JK: That's also our point of view but on the condition that the requirements for
real elections exist. Elections in the way that the Americans want them
organized serve to support the occupation.
HD: The United Iraqi Alliance, for example, said that when they win, they will
call for a timetable of the withdrawal.
JK: The coming days will show whether they will respect their promise.
Herbert Docena is a research associate at Focus on the Global South, a
Bangkok-based policy research and advocacy center.