A gathering of clerics in Anbar. (photo: موقع المجمع الفقهي العراقي على الفيسبوك)
When a couple plan to marry in the central Iraqi province of Anbar, it is not uncommon for the groom to ask a cleric to accompany him, when he goes to ask for the bride’s hand. In keeping with this tradition, one young local from Fallujah recently went to see his intended’s father, accompanied by a local religious man.
Even if they were acting with good intentions and in good conscience, they should know that society no longer wants to hear what they have to say.
Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong religious man. Abdul Karim al-Jumaili, 56, refused the young man’s request. The cleric, al-Jumaili says, was not to be trusted and would never regain his status in society again. This alone was enough for al-Jumaili to tell the young man he could not marry his daughter.
Al-Jumaili’s opinion is one held by an increasing number of people in Anbar, many of whom say they no longer trust the religious and tribal elite who led anti-government demonstrations in 2013, before the security crisis sparked by the extremist group known as the Islamic State began.
“Even if they were acting with good intentions and in good conscience, they should know that society no longer wants to hear what they have to say,” al-Jumaili explains. “They should stay at home and forget about leading us. They are not qualified for that job.”
Anbar is a relatively conservative, Sunni-majority province and usually tribal and religious leaders there have a lot of influence; often they can even tell locals who they should be voting for. But now, Anbar locals say they won’t be as easily influenced by these individuals any more, and in particular by the individuals who led anti-government protests back in 2013. Those demonstrations had an adverse impact on local society and those who instigated them are being blamed for that.
At a mosque in Anbar.
“The people think the leaders of the protests prepared the situation for the arrival of the Islamic State,” one local explains the thinking behind this. “They believe those leaders did this because they got money from the IS group, or because they worked with them after they took over Anbar’s cities. The people think they were tricked. They were told it was a Sunni revolution. But then they discovered it was all for the IS group instead. At least, that’s what some people suspect,” she adds. “Now they hate them. They lost so much.”
The 2013 protests led to the deterioration in the way in which some tribal and religious leaders are seen by locals, confirms Mohammed al-Dulaimi, a professor of political science at the University of Baghdad. They have been described as instigators. “And to replace them, other new entities are becoming more popular. Those are making use of the public’s antipathy to become the new leaders in the province.”
Various surveys appear to show that a large number of the local population have lost confidence in tribal and religious leaders in Anbar, al-Dulaimi says. “Even though they all still believe that religious and tribal leadership is important and necessary for society,” he adds.
One passer-by near a mosque on Friday, who was not heading in to pray, as is customary, scoffed when asked why he was not going in: “What? Should I go and pray behind this guy?” he said. The insinuation was that the cleric leading the service was one of those who instigated protests and sided with the extremists. Other locals NIQASH spoke to near the mosque said they were not convinced about the cleric. “But we are going to go and do our duty to God anyway,” they said.
“The clerics and tribal leaders who helped organize the demonstrations no longer have any influence on the majority of the people here,” insists Bilal Hillal, a 45-year-old resident of Fallujah. “They are still trying to hold events and activities in Fallujah though. That is how they are trying to regain the trust of the people.”
Not everyone was so down on them though. Another Fallujah resident, Ahmad Darwish, 51, says the demonstration leaders were “motivated people” but that they had been used to serve political agendas, and that this had resulted in a loss of status for them.
“Their good intentions are not enough to absolve them of their mistakes though,” Darwish continued. “These resulted in so much damage to the province, which have seen them lose their status here.”