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SAUDI ARABIA - Kuwaiti Warning.

Kuwait's Prime Minister, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, warned on April 6: "If civil strife (in Iraq) erupts, it will burn us all and burn down our country". Shaikh Sabah was responding to questions about meetings he has been holding with Sunni and Shiite theologians and community leaders. He did not elaborate on what was causing the religious tensions in Kuwait, where 30% of the population is Shiite and the ruling Al Sabah family is Sunni.

Sectarianism has not been a divisive issue in Kuwait, where Shiites are represented in parliament and can practice their rituals. The empowerment of Shiites Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime has emboldened Shiites to demand more rights. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer Al Mehri, who heads a Kuwaiti congregation of Shiite theologians and represents Iraq's most senior leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, was on April 6 quoted as saying the Shiites of Kuwait were "undoubtedly affected" by the empowerment of Shiites in Iraq, adding: "There is a general effect, Shiites now are a weight in the area").

Wahhabism in Iraq had taken root within the Sunni triangle long before the US invaded the country. They began to grow in early 2002, when leaks in the US media started indicating an American intent to remake the map of the Arab world with an invasion of Iraq to be the first major step. Wahhabi militants in Iraq started to invite Wahhabi volunteers from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Muslim world to spread their creed and prepare to fight both US-led foreign troops and the country's Shiites. Thus radical Wahhabi volunteers streamed into Iraq through the country's western and pre-dominantly Sunni province of Al Anbar which borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. By the time US forces captured Baghdad, in April 2003, more than 1,500 non-Iraqi Wahhabis, well trained in guerrilla warfare, had settled among Iraq's Wahhabi communities within the Sunni triangle.

The presence of Wahhabism in Iraq dates back to the 18th century AD, when Shaikh Mohammed Ibn Abdel Wahhab founded this sect in what is now called Saudi Arabia. This presence in Iraq now has become an extremely sensitive issue in Saudi Arabia, because the royal regime of Riyadh is in the process of getting the mainstream and moderate faction of Wahhabism to reform the sect and eliminate some of its aspects which are potentially dangerous and no longer relevant in the modern age (see the background of, and perspective for, Wahhabism in the third part of this survey in the next FAP issue).

The Iraqi branch of Wahhabism is extremely fanatic, like Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, and is particularly hostile to the Shiites and non-Sunni people. Its militants also regard the Christians and Jews as enemies. They call the Shiites polytheists for giving Imam Ali (the Prophet Mohammed's cousin & son-in-law) and his son Hussein divine attributes. The also call them "Rafida: (or Rafadiyeen, ie, rejectionists) for having rejected Sunna (Sunni orthodoxy).

It was reported that, at the climax of the Shiites' Ashura rituals on March 2, moments before suicide bombs exploded at Baghdad's Kathimiya shrine, a pilgrim standing near the golden doors of the sepulchre heard a voice shout: "You are polytheists and you worship Hussein son of Ali like a god!" For the Shiites, the March 2 attacks on their holiest shrines at Kathimiya and in Karbala (Imam Hussein's tomb) provided the clearest evidence that Al-Qaeda's Wahhabi ideology was at in Iraq. Those attacks killed more than 200 Shiites, including many Iranian pilgrims.

On March 18, the FT quoted a Baghdad intellectual Amir Al Helou as saying the March 2 suicide bombers were acting just like Shaikh Mohammed Ibn Abdel Wahhab, who in the 18th century "launched raids on Hussein's shrine in Karbala and killed many Shiites". He added: "His (contemporary) followers, Wahhabis, consider the shrines are polytheistic". He noted that Wahhabim preached against worship of "false idols" which, in its interpretation, include Sufism (Islamic mystics noted for saint worship), and the Shiites who revere the descendants of Ali. Helou and other Iraqi intellectuals trace Wahhabism's recent popularity to the aftermath of the Afghan resistance to Soviet invaders. From the 1990s, hundreds of victorious "Mujahideen" redirected their holy war from Central Asia to the regimes in the Arab world.

Even before the US invasion of Iraq, which began on March 20, 2003, anti-Shiite diatribes could be heard from many a Friday prayer pulpit from Mosul to Baghdad, warning that a successful US occupation would result in Sunni submission to the Rafida, as Iraq's Wahhabis term the Shiites. At the last Friday prayer before March 20, 2003 start of the war, according to the FT, a Baghdad preacher clamoured: "If we do not resist the invaders, the Rafida will kill anyone called Omar (a Sunni name)".

The FT said on March 18 an Iraqi security official seeking to rebuild Iraq's dissolved intelligence agency (Mukhabarat) "believes some Sunni mosques are acting as local urban bases for jihadis (holy warriors) hiding in the hills across the Syrian border. They include Saudis, Yemenis, Syrians and Iranians caught in Iraq's cities while trying to launch attacks. The paper said traditional Sunni preachers in Iraq had seen their congregations increasingly drawn to Wahhabis.

The paper added: "Of an adult Sunni male population of perhaps 20,000 in the mixed-Sunni/Shiite town of Abu Ghraib, 10 km from Baghdad, Shaikh Yasseen Zubaie, a Sunni religious figure, estimates that as many as 4,000 now worship at Wahhabi mosques. Since the capture of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's resistance has acquired an increasingly religious hue, issuing communiques and daubing walls with graffiti under the name of 'Mohammed's army'. This army appears to be a loose coalition of cells bearing such religious titles as Jihadi Earthquake Brigades, Saladin Brigades and Al-Mutawakkilun (those who rely on God), aimed at restoring 'the capital of the caliphate', Baghdad.

"Another resistance group operating further north, Ansar Al Sunna - literally the Members of the Sunna, a name highlighting its sectarian nature - used the internet to claim responsibility for two suicide bombings that killed more than 100 people in the Kurdish capital, Arbil, and has distributed video CDs of what it claims to be its attacks on British, Spanish and Canadian intelligence officers, complete with their passports and identity cards. One of five wills of suicide bombers read out in Ansar Al Sunna's video warned 'the brokers of the West' that jihad would continue 'until we get back (the Jerusalem mosque of) Al-Aqsa and Andalucia (Spain)'. The videos appear to offer some support to claims that Al-Qaeda's ideology is motivating, if not directing, the attacks".

In January, the FT said, Iraq's embryonic intelligence services uncovered a video CD circulating in Falluja entitled "Hidaya Al Eid" (The Holiday Gifts), in which shaikhs bearing Saudi tribal names such as Al Ghamdi and speaking with Saudi accents boasted of their attacks on US troops.

Earlier in March, a London-based and Saudi-financed magazine, Al Majalla, ran an e-mail interview with "an Al-Qaeda leader", Abu-Muhammad Al-Ablaj, who claimed to have received instructions from Bin Laden to direct "the Mujahideen yearning for martyrdom" to go to Iraq. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite station, which has frequently aired Al-Qaeda videos, also broadcast an appeal - allegedly from Zarqawi - entitled "Join the Convoy". On the broadcast, Zarqawi said: "Here is America among us. So, come take revenge on it and extinguish your thirst with its blood".

In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, the government is pursuing its own war against Al-Qaeda and affiliated Wahhabi militants. On April 6, Saudi police patrolling the affluent suburb of Rawda, east of Riyadh, fired at a car that refused an order to stop. It was later discovered that three wanted militants were in the car. The police killed one of them and wounded another. The police then cornered the wounded militant and the third man and arrested them, with the area cordoned off and converged on by extra police and ambulances.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden, had been on high alert since his militants carried out several attacks aimed at destabilising the kingdom. Al-Qaeda on April 8 issued another warning that it will move against all Arab regimes that are allied to the US and other coalition forces involved in Iraq. (The Saudi authorities released a list of 26 most wanted militants following a series of suicide bombings in Riyadh on May 12, 2003, that killed 26 people. On Nov. 8, a suicide attack on a Riyadh housing compound killed 17 people. Three on the most wanted list are dead and hundreds of suspected extremists have been rounded up as a result of raids to seize weapons and militants. Police have seized more than 20 tons of explosive materials, surface to air missiles, rocket propelled grenades, and hundreds of explosive belts).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:7KUWA
Date:Apr 12, 2004
Words:1466
Previous Article:SAUDI ARABIA - The Iraq Challenge & The Wahhabi Angle.
Next Article:SAUDI ARABIA - The Danger Of Depending On US Protection.
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