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Cablegate: Anbar Moderate Clerics Share Their Views On

VZCZCXRO1635
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #1334/01 1210804
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 300804Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7097
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 001334

SIPDIS

SBU
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER IR IZ
SUBJECT: ANBAR MODERATE CLERICS SHARE THEIR VIEWS ON
ENGAGING THE US

1. (U) This is a PRT Anbar reporting cable.

2. (SBU) Summary: While largely misunderstood by outsiders,
the role of the mosque was crucial in winning the battle
against Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in Anbar Province. Local
contacts are firm in their belief that the re-taking of the
mosques from radicals was a critical factor in the winning of
hearts and minds. April 23 Anbar PRT met with two Sunni
Endowment leaders who fought in both the ideological and
physical struggle against Al-Qaeda in Iraq. They talked
about their experiences during the insurgency and affirm that
while moderates are in charge of the mosques today, radicals
may still make inroads among the youth. They favor a deeper
"cultural dialogue" with the U.S.. End Summary.

----------------
Moderate Clerics
----------------

3. (SBU) The battle for Anbar Province tipped in GOI favor in
2007. A key factor in that development was the shift in
public opinion, in which AQI was re-defined as the enemy, and
Coalition Forces (CF) gradually came to be seen as an ally.
The role of the mosque in influencing that change in the
public mood is still poorly understood by outsiders, but
virtually all PRT contacts )- both government officials and
tribal leaders )- cite the importance of moderate clerics
assuming leadership of the mosques that had fallen under
radical influence. If the mosques fomented insurrection in
2004-05, it is clear that they helped to stabilize the
situation in 2006-07.

4. (SBU) PRT met with two Ramadi-based clerics to get a
better understanding of the ideological struggle against
radical Islam. (Note: Both clerics are widely viewed here
as moderates and bear the physical scars from combat with
AQI. End Note) At an April 23 meeting Abdullah Jallal
al-Faraj told PRT: "If you find a mosque that is preaching
radicalism, tell us and we will visit it, and change the
messages to moderation and tolerance.8 Abdullah is a portly
forty-something, who once competed in national soccer. He
now heads up Anbar,s office of the Sunni Endowment, and uses
that position to ensure that the mosque preachers
(Al-Khutiba') stay on a message of moderation. Today, he
says some "500,000 citizens hear our message of peace and
tolerance every Friday."

5. (SBU) Dr. Thamir Al-Assafi, a Ramadi native and the
Endowment's senior theologian, joined Abdullah at the April
23 meeting and explained that his interest in theology came
after his service as a commando in the Iran-Iraq war. In his
presentation, he was strongly anti)Iranian, but came down
equally hard on Sunni extremism. "We will beat down the
'takfiri' using the power of true Islam," he said. (Note:
"Takfiri" is an Arabic word denoting those who denounce other
Muslims for the sin of apostasy. It is commonly used
describe to followers of militant Sunni ideologies. End Note)
He cites the Endowment,s responsibility to propagate correct
religious teaching. "We will even get rid of the term
'moderate' because it truly is redundant,8 he said.

---------------------
The Battle for Ramadi
---------------------

6. (SBU) The role of Abdullah and Thamir in the fight against
AQI goes back to September 2006, when the late Sheikh Sattar
Abu Risha and a group of like-minded tribal leaders in Ramadi
formed the Anbar Awakening Council. That group encouraged
local youths to join the police force, and with the aid of
CF, ultimately expelled AQI from the city. Soon after the
Awakening was founded, Sattar sought the Endowment to issue a
"fatwa," or official religious decree, to legitimize the
Awakening's aims. Abdullah and Thamir obliged. Although the
two were ideologically in tune with Sattar, they moved
carefully. Such a decree was controversial because it called
on the public to reassess its sympathies to AQI, which it had
previously viewed as the defender of Sunni interests.
Another issue was Sattar himself. The clerics wished to
avoid being seen as giving moral support to a man who had a
penchant for alcohol and whose source of personal wealth
(black-marketeering) was suspect. In the end, the fatwa gave
the public the permission to oppose AQI. It also declared
that its brand of Islam was false and that it engaged in
un-Islamic practices.

7. (SBU) Moreover, the clerics made it permissible for the
people to cooperate with the CF, a notion that ran against
the prevailing sentiment among Iraq,s Sunni religious
establishment, which viewed the CF as occupiers. In November
2006, for example, Sattar traded media insults with Hareth

BAGHDAD 00001334 002 OF 002


Al-Dhari, the leader of the anti-government Association of
Muslim Scholars, with Sattar openly referring to the CF as
"friendly forces" and displaying the American flag at his
Ramadi compound. Al-Dhari called him an "agent" of the "US
occupation." Summing up that period of the insurgency,
Abdullah says that it was the combination of Sattar's vision
plus the Endowment's moral authority that tipped the scales
on the battlefield.

----------------------
Reclaiming the Mosques
----------------------

8. (SBU) Nonetheless, AQI still exercised influence over key
mosques. Abdullah was under a death threat. In early 2007,
he asked the CF to arrange a security detail for him,
comprised of local members of the "emergency police
battalions," the forerunner to the Sons of Iraq, so that he
could visit mosques. "I will kick the bad guys out of the
mosques," Abdullah recalls his telling CF officers in those
days. By a series of personal engagements, Abdullah fired
some mosque speakers (al-khutiba') and persuaded others to
moderate their sermons. Gradually the radical hold loosened.
Today radicalism in the mosques has fallen to "nearly zero,"
in Abdullah's estimation.

9. (SBU) Abdullah says that the mosques are currently
controlled by the moderates; he is still concerned that "the
poor and uneducated" are susceptible to AQI recruitment.
Curiously, he sees an increased American civilian presence in
Anbar as the antidote. "The more American cultural presence
we have in Anbar, the more we can support and reach out to
these vulnerable people."

-----------------
Cultural Dialogue
-----------------

10. (SBU) Thamir added that "if America wants to weaken the
appeal of Al-Qaeda" it should engage in a "cultural
dialogue." On that theme, both he and Abdullah made the
following points during the discussion:

-- The US should establish a "consulate" in Anbar, as well as
a cultural center, and an English language center.

-- They want Arabic translations of American literature in
the schools.

-- They support the presence of American NGOs, and see their
role in helping to provide basic services. "Where are the
American NGOs? We want private NGOs in every town," Thamir
said.

-- Both clerics favor inter-faith dialogue with the "People
of the Book", and both had critical words about Western
Muslims with pro-AQI sympathies. They claim to have met such
persons on the hajj and believe they are mis-guided about
AQI. "They don't know what we know," Thamir said. "We must
talk to them about the reality of Al-Qaeda, because it is not
Islam. Our society has seen the damage of radical
ideologies."

-- The clerics support elections and want women to vote.
Thamir added that he will go together with his wife to
register to vote as an example to others.

----------------------------
A Center to Combat Extremism
----------------------------

11. (SBU) Both sought financial support for the unfunded
Center to Combat Foreign Ideologies (Al-Markez Al-Wiqaii
li-Muajihad Al-Afkhar Al-Dakheela), a body that Abdullah
recently established. The center has already published short
essays on religious themes and has plans for larger
book-length studies. Planned topics include: the damage
caused by extremist ideology; civil rights and
responsibilities; public freedom in Islam; the moderate
criteria for fatwas; respecting people's rights; and the
Muslim role in reform.

12. (SBU) Comment: Abdullah and Thamir have obviously left
the door open for further dialogue. Several PRT initiatives
suggest themselves, including nominating Anbari clerics for
an International Visitor's program on inter-faith dialogue,
and support for Abdullah's research center. We will be
calling on them again. End comment.
CROCKER

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