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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Abu Hanifa and its terrorists (Special Report)

** Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches **
** **

(I am devoting quite a lot of space and bandwith to this article from Dahr. It is definately worth your time.)*aj*

Another brilliant analysis from Omar Khan...

Abu Hanifa and its terrorists

What gives violence legitimacy? Last Friday, in Baghdad, Iraqis
attending mosque were interrupted by a US-led military assault. Several
accounts of the event circulated in the hours following. Among them I
would like to briefly compare two: one by an independent journalist and
a second by a major newspaper.

*Of organizations and operations*

“As US Forces Raided a Mosque”
opens with the statement that “U.S. soldiers raided the Abu Hanifa
mosque in Baghdad during Friday prayers, killing at least four and
wounding up to 20 worshippers.” As a sequence of events, the episode is
explained with an onset (“about 50 U.S. soldiers with 20 Iraqi National
Guardsmen entered the mosque”) at a specified time (“12:30 pm”). A
witness describes what follows: “Everyone starting yelling 'Allah u
Akbar' (God is great) because they were frightened. Then the soldiers
started shooting the people praying!” He continues, saying “they are
holding our heads to the ground”; as this witness and others were
collected, he recounts that he was able to escape detention when a young
boy claimed to be of his relation. Testimony from two further witnesses
corroborates this account, as does the extended audio version
<> of this report that
includes a recording of gunfire inside the mosque. In both versions of
the report, it is noted that the US military prevented medical personnel
from entering the mosque to treat the wounded. Then “about 30 men were
led out with hoods over their heads and their hands tied behind them.
Soldiers loaded them into a military vehicle and took them away around
3.15 pm.” After almost three hours, Red Crescent officials were able to
attend to those inside the mosque, confirming nine wounded and four dead.

“GI’s and Iraqis Raid Mosque, Killing 3,”
though similarly titled, provides a different account. The article
begins by amplifying its explicit subject (“American and Iraqi troops
raided a prominent Sunni mosque in Baghdad on Friday”) for which a
possible cause is given (it “may have been aimed at a cleric said to
have incited insurgent violence”). This cause is then visited,
substantiated: “In Mosul, in the north, Iraqi commanders staged numerous
raids in search of rebel hideouts as up to a dozen decapitated bodies
were found strewn about the city.” Returning 200 miles to the south, the
article describes a “chaotic raid” following a “melee”; “blood
splattered on the floor” (whose is unsaid) follows from the actions of
“enraged worshipers” rather than that of those who opened fire on them.
Note the Iraqi agency implicated, in contrast to the previous article:
Iraqi rather than American soldiers are said to have opened fire, and it
is Iraqis rather than Americans who supply the rationale. Such rationale
is at once given at the highest level, “Ayad Allawi said imams who
incited violence would be arrested,” and by an ordinary Iraqi: “Louay
Ibrahim, an Iraqi police officer who was praying” recounts that “the
imam at the mosque was giving a sermon that urged his audience to make
Mosul and other Iraqi cities into embattled places.” US-appointed
authorities appear representative (the perspective of the Prime minister
is that of the praying police officer) as their account substantiates a
cause: acts of violence of the sort discovered in Mosul—which it is
suggested, finds their origin in Abu Hanifa. That is to say the assault
on Abu Hanifa is represented first as a response to murderousness
elsewhere in Iraq, and upon a second, more studied look, as a necessary
preventative to such murderousness. The killings in Abu Hanifa—the
subject of the report—appear a slight cost, relatively benign (however
unfortunate) beside the evils unearthed in Mosul.

The account follows this course. The “enraged worshipers” of Abu Hanifa
are further implicated by their association with Saddam Hussein, who
outside the mosque “stood atop a car to greet supporters” during his
last public appearance. Several more paragraphs are devoted to grisly
violence of Mosul, further underscoring the necessity of military action
taken at the mosque. Indeed, the “swirl of violence” continues south to
Baghdad, where Abu Hanifa is revisited after nine and a half paragraphs
with descriptions that “worshipers had resisted,” causing shootings and
similar “rough treatment.”

Whereas the first article represents violence merely as such, the second
contains it within a larger, grander narrative of an American mission in
Iraq. Thus, in the latter account, there is little or no place for more
mundane details—the denial of medical care to those wounded inside the
mosque, and that men were afterward bound, hooded, and detained. That
those subject to the shootings were civilians likewise did not suit the
heroism of mission, heroism that is depicted in the print edition of the
article by an adjacent photo of two US soldiers, steadily converging on
a Mosul mosque, their long shadows following them. This second article,
moreover, depicts the shootings as part of an immediate response to
“resistance” on the part of frenzied worshipers (‘worshiper’ itself
being a word which suggests a certain measure of zeal beyond what we
would expect of, for instance, a ‘churchgoer’). In this account, Iraqi
soldiers do all of the shooting—there is but passing mention that
American soldiers even entered the mosque. And most fundamentally, the
second article is a departure from the first and a literal departure
from Abu Hanifa in the view it offers of the episode: the attack on a
house of worship is no more than a frame for expounding on “the
militants’ organization” and operations in Mosul and
elsewhere—operations whose organization, it is suggested, comes in part
from prayer services of the sort that US military interrupted. This
account—falling under the heading “Insurgents” in its print
version—thereby gives legitimacy to the violence represented therein.

*“Terrorism is a modern barbarism that we call terrorism.” —George
Shutlz, as United States Secretary of State, 1984^1 *

The first article was published by Dahr Jamail,^2 the second by the New
York Times.^3 This second account—as an article from the Times, and as
such a source of countless derivations in regional and local media—might
be called the authoritative, or if you like, official account of last
Friday’s episode at Abu Hanifa. Like so many other authoritative or
official accounts of violence, this contained within it the word
“terrorist.” In this instance, “terrorist financiers” are referred to
passingly as part of the rationale for the United States to deploy
violence against those in the Abu Hanifa mosque and elsewhere. But the
subjects of violence in Abu Hanifa were civilians; why is it that the
attack on them is not described as terrorist?

Eqbal Ahmad has said of the word terrorism that “inconsistency
necessarily evades definition. If you are not going to be consistent,
you’re not going to define.”^4 This is true of public discussion of the
past week’s discussion of violence in Iraq as it is of public discussion
generally. There are, however, official definitions of terrorism that
have been published if rarely discussed. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff, a
panel of the highest-ranking members of each branch of the armed forces,
defines terrorism as “the calculated use of violence or threat of
unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or intimidate
governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally
political, religious, or ideological.”^5 The US State Department has
used another definition of terrorism, that which is contained in Title
22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d): “The term ‘terrorism’
means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against
noncombatant^* targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents,
usually intended to influence an audience. The term ‘international
terrorism’ means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more
than one country. The term ‘terrorist group’ means any group practicing,
or that has significant subgroups that practice, international

Both definitions are reminders of the most recent invasion of
Fallujah—which Richard Myers, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, called “very, very successful”—in which the exit of male
and the entry of medical personnel were denied, and the use of
unconventional weapons reported to be widespread. On the number of
Fallujans killed in the past few days, Lieutenant General John Sattler
assured that “a number of 1,200 has been thrown out multiple times. I
would say that that's probably a safe number,” at least 800 of whom are
thought to be civilian. Mr. Sattler described such success as the result
of vigilance in the face of “the tactic that the enemy has been using is
at nighttime the enemy tries to go to ground and hide”: “we have no
intention of letting the enemy sleep at night because our technology
permits us to own the night
In the second definition of terrorism given above, the asterisk beside
“noncombatant” has a corresponding footnote: “for purposes of this
definition, the term ‘noncombatant’ is interpreted to include, in
addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the
incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.” Operations of the sort
explained by Mr. Sattler in Fallujah (and on a smaller scale, in the Abu
Hanifa mosque) would be terrorist according to the criteria of the State
Department as they target those unengaged in armed conflict—regardless
of their political affiliations—as is implied in the previous
definition, which characterizes terrorism as attack on “societies.”
These operations, moreover, ably fit the psychological objective common
to both definitions—that terrorism is used to “intimidate” and is
“intended to influence an audience”: these collective punishments, like
many others in Iraq, are designed to send “a very powerful message
that we are serious.” ^8

However, there is a stipulation in the State Department definition of
terrorism that exempts the actions of the US military in Fallujah and
Abu Hanifa: such actions are terrorist provided that they are undertaken
by “subnational groups or clandestine agents.” This condition
disqualifies the actions of US armed forces as terrorist, even though
such actions would qualify as “attack directed against a civilian
population” and the “deportation or forcible transfer of population
against humanity as considered by the International Criminal Court.^9
The assumption that terrorism cannot come from a state, explicit in at
least one definition, tacitly circumscribes public discussion of
terrorism, and accordingly of what constitutes legitimate and
illegitimate uses of violence. It seems that such legitimacy depends
less on the violence deployed than on who deploys it.

Max Weber has defined the state as a “human community that successfully
claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical violence within a
given territory.” It then should be of little surprise that the language
of terrorism is language of the state. But this is today both less true
and more true than would seem: the language of terrorism is unavailable
to some states while it has been used by the United States against
fellow states. The US government has extended its monopoly on violence
from “a given territory” to every territory^10 , doing so under the
rubric of legitimate violence deployed by a state under international
conventions (war) against an illegitimate use of violence (terrorism).
The first violence of “The War on Terrorism,” it appears, is its
violence unto language.

(1) In "Terrorism: Theirs and Ours," a lecture delivered at the
University of Colorado, Eqbal Ahmad, October 12, 1998.

(2) Dahr Jamail, November 19, 2004.

(3) “GI’s and Iraqis Raid Mosque, Killing 3,” New York Times, James
Glanz and Richard A. Oppel, Jr., November 20, 2004.

(4) "Terrorism: Theirs and Ours."

(5) In A Primer on Homeland Security, Institute for Homeland Security.
This is called the “institute preferred definition.”

(6) In Patterns of Global Terrorism, US State Department, where it is
said that “the US Government has employed this definition of terrorism
for statistical and analytical purposes since 1983.”

(7) Defense Department Operational Update Briefing, Lieutenant General
John Sattler, November 18, 2004. “We own the night” was also the
expression of the plainclothes unit of the New York Police Department
that in 1999 shot 41 bullets at unarmed 22 year old Amadou Diallo in his

(8) “U.S. forces storm into western Fallujah,” Associated Press, Jim
Krane, November 7, 2004.

(9) See articles 7(1) and 7(2) of the Rome Statute of the International
Criminal Court <>:
"Deportation or forcible transfer of population" means forced
displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive
acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds
permitted under international law; "Attack directed against any civilian
population" means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission
of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population,
pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to
commit such attack.

(10) As George Bush said on November 6, 2001, “all nations, if they want
to fight terror, must do something...Over time it's going to be
important for nations to know they will be held accountable for
inactivity. You're either with us or against us in the fight against
terror,” reported by “Bush says it is time for action,” CNN, November 6,
2001. Iraqi law has been rewritten accordingly; in Executive Order
number 91, for instance, the designation “terrorist” is applied to
prohibit all violence uninitiated by the US military or the Iraqi Armed
Forces that act on its behalf.

Posted by Omar_Khan at November 26, 2004 06:03 PM


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