Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spiritual Leader To Iraq’s Insurgency Harith Dhari Dies In Exile

At the start of March 2015 Harith Dhari the head of the Association of Muslim Scholars died in Turkey. Dhari was a leading opponent of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which led him to support the insurgency. Both his son and nephew became leaders in militant groups as a result. Dhari was eventually issued an arrest warrant that caused him to leave the country, and later the United States and United Nations labeled him a terrorist supporter as well. Even after the American military withdrawal in 2011, he continued to criticize the Iraqi government. Dhari represented the Sunni rejection of the post-2003 Iraq, and how that led many towards violence.

Harith Dhari was a religious leader from a well known family. He was born in Khan Dhari in the Abu Ghraib district of western Baghdad. He was the grandson of Sheikh Suleiman Dhari who was a leader in the 1920 revolt against British rule in Iraq. Dhari received several degrees throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He became a professor of Islamic law at the University of Baghdad and was an imam with a wide following in the capital. In the 1990s he fled the country, and did not return until July 2003.

When Dhari came back to Iraq he became the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which was a major rejectionist group. The Association was based out of the Um Qura mosque in Baghdad, and attempted to become the spiritual and political leader of the Sunni community in the new post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. To achieve that goal Dhari advocated for armed struggle against the Americans. In various sermons and statements he accused the U.S. of destroying Iraq’s culture and civilization and violating human rights. In turn, he said it was the right of Iraqis to resist the occupation of their country, and supported the insurgency as a result. He would often compare the struggle against the Americans to the 1920 one against the British. He claimed this was not a sectarian movement, and that he wanted to unite all Iraqis, but at other times he referred to Sunnis being the majority of Iraq, and implied that meant Shiite did not have the right to rule. His rejection of the new Iraq extended into politics as well. He said none of Iraq’s new leaders were loyal to the country, he called for a boycott of the 2005 elections, a no vote against the constitution, and rejected the Anbar Awakening when it started in 2006. Dhari expressed many of the fears and frustrations of Iraq’s Sunni community after the 2003 invasion. Sunnis were used to ruling the country before, and now were they not only out of power, but people they had been told were enemies of the state, namely Americans, Shiites and Kurds, were now running things. Some of the new ruling parties were also connected to Iran, which had become the existential threat to Iraq under Saddam. Angered by the turn of events led many like Dhari to call for armed struggle.

Dhari was not only a vocal supporter of violence, but his family became leaders in the insurgency as well. During various times, Dhari endorsed things like kidnapping and the killing of foreigners. He also said that Al Qaeda in Iraq was part of the legitimate resistance. Dhari’s son Muthanna Dhari and his nephew Harith Dhari Khamis Dhari were both leaders in the 1920 Revolution Brigades. In August 2004 his son was arrested when explosive residue was found in his car. He was released because Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was in talks with the Association of Muslim Scholars to try to get it to back the new government. His father was not as lucky as a warrant was issued for him in November 2006 for his support of the insurgency, which caused him to flee the country. Later in 2010, the United States Treasury Department and United Nations both labeled the senior Dhari as a terrorist backer as well.

In 2007, Dhari came out against Al Qaeda in Iraq after it killed his nephew, but that might have only been a temporary split. In May 2007 he said he rejected Al Qaeda in Iraq’s attempt to form an Islamic state. He criticized the group for going too far, and accused it of trying to take over the wider insurgency. This was not because he suddenly had a change of heart, but was rather caused by the Islamists killing his nephew Harith Dhari Khamis Dhari in March. This was a time when Al Qaeda in Iraq was coming into open conflict with other militant groups for leadership of the resistance. It wanted to be the vanguard of the insurgency, and would kill anyone that stood in its way. It also actively worked to infiltrate and take over other groups like the 1920 Revolution Brigade. Still, it appeared that this break was not permanent as in 2010 the U.S. charged Dhari’s son Muthanna with visiting Al Qaeda in Iraq training camps in Syria and helping it with financing.

Even after the U.S. withdrew its forces in 2011, Dhari did not give up his opposition to the new Iraq. The next year when the Sunni protests began in Anbar and spread to other areas of central and northern Iraq, he praised them. Dhari called them another phase in the resistance. The Shiite and Kurdish parties were still in power, and Dhari considered them illegitimate rulers beholden to themselves and their foreign masters in Washington and Tehran.

Dhari was never able to return to Iraq and died in exile in Turkey on March 12, 2015. That was a fitting end to a man who rejected everything about post-2003 Iraq. He never gave the new system a chance seeing it as illegitimate from the start, because of the U.S. occupation. He was even against Iraqi initiatives such as the Anbar Awakening, and continued to be against the government even after the U.S. departed. Instead, he called for violence, which cost him his own nephew’s life at the hands of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Dhari’s rejectionist views continue to be shared by the insurgency, which plagues the country.


Abbas, Mushreq, “Iraqi Sheikh Faces Divisions Within Sunni Community,” Al-Monitor, 9/10/13

Anderson, Jon Lee, The Fall of Baghdad, London: Penguin Books, 2004

Dhari, Harith Sulaiman, “Sheikh Harith Al-Dhari’s letter to the Brussells Tribunal,” Brussels Tribunal, 4/2/13

Dougherty, Beth and Ghareeb, Edmund, Historical Dictionary of Iraq, Maryland, Scarecrow Press, 2013

Ghosh, Bobby, “Al-Qaeda Loses an Iraqi Friend,” Time, 5/14/07

Habib, Mustafa, “niqash interview: iraq’s reconciliation minister on negotiating with militias, saddam hussein and libya,” Niqash, 11/10/11

Al Jazeera, “Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, God protect him,” 3/12/15

Klein, Joe, “Saddam’s Revenge,” Time, 9/26/05

Lembke, Andrew, “How We Lost Touch With Our Friends in Iraq,” War On The Rocks, 10/23/14

Al Masalah, “Who is Harith al-Dhari?” 3/12/15

McWilliams, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Timothy, and Wheeler, Lieutenant Colonel Kurtis, ed., Al-Anbar Awakening Volume II, Iraqi Perspectives, From Insurgency to Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2004-2009, Virginia: Marine Corps University, 2009

Meijer, Roel, “The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq,” Middle East Report, Winter 2014

Rayburn, Joel, Iraq After America, Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance, Hoover Institution Press: Stanford, 2014

Roggio, Bill, “The Anbar Tribes vs. al Qaeda, Continued,” Long War Journal, 11/22/06
- “US, UN sanction al Qaeda in Iraq leader,” Long War Journal, 3/26/10

Rosen, Nir, In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Free Press, 2006

Semple, Kirk, “Iraq Issues Warrant for Arrest of Sunni Cleric,” New York Times, 11/17/06

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 60,” 5/3/13

No comments:

This Day In Iraqi History - Apr 21 Coalition Provisional Authority created to run post-war Iraq

  1802 Wahabi army from Arabia sacked Karbala 2,000-5,000 killed