Sunni Legislator Among Political Untouchables
By Kathleen RidolfoWhen U.S. forces detained more than 30 employees of Iraqi legislator Adnan al-Dulaymi last week on charges of terrorism, it briefly appeared that the lawmaker, long accused of supporting terrorism, might face intense scrutiny over suspected wrongdoing. Instead, al-Dulaymi spent one day under house arrest, after which he was moved to the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad's Green Zone, so he could continue to attend parliament sessions.
Al-Dulaymi's home and offices have been raided by U.S. and Iraqi security forces on at least five occasions over the past two years. There have been at least four attempts by fellow deputies to lift his immunity from prosecution over the same period. And yet al-Dulaymi has not faced formal prosecution, largely due to the power he holds in the fragile Sunni alliance with the government.
The parliamentarian's case is not unlike that of other powerbrokers inside the Iraqi government. The potential backlash -- both political and security-related -- that would likely ensue following the detention of any key leader has prevented the fragile government from taking action against any of them. Al-Dulaymi said this week that any action taken against him would hurt the government's attempts to forge reconciliation with Sunni Arabs.
Links To Terrorism?
Iraqi officials have said that there is no official evidence al-Dulaymi was involved in last week's incident, when U.S. and Iraqi forces raided his Baghdad compound after finding a booby-trapped car parked nearby. Upon detonating the vehicle, a second vehicle also packed with explosives blew up. Al-Dulaymi's son and more than 40 other employees, mostly bodyguards, were later detained. One of the bodyguards detained held the keys to one of the bomb-laden vehicles. Iraqi Brigadier General Qassim Ata told reporters on November 30 that the booby-trapped cars were found as security forces investigated the shooting of Al-Adl Awakening Council member Umar Muhammad by al-Dulaymi's bodyguards.
Ata later said security forces found documents and CDs linking al-Dulaymi's bodyguards to terrorist activities in their search of his compound. They also reportedly found grenades, bombs, and other explosives in the basement of al-Dulaymi's office. "We did not directly accuse Dr. Adnan al-Dulaymi or anyone in the [Iraqi] Accordance Front," Ata said this week, referring to the Sunni alliance to which al-Dulaymi's party belongs. "But the whole situation is linked to his personal guards." Some 42 people remain under investigation.
Several of al-Dulaymi's bodyguards have been arrested over the past two years. In one incident in September 2006, U.S. forces arrested a bodyguard at al-Dulaymi's compound who was a known member of Al-Qaeda. At the time, the U.S. Embassy released a joint statement by then-U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, saying the arrested bodyguard had "no ties" to al-Dulaymi's family "nor is Dr. al-Dulaymi connected in any way to the suspect activities of the individual who was arrested."
Ties To Sectarian Violence
It is difficult to state definitevely whether or not al-Dulaymi is involved in terrorism, because so much of the criticism of him comes through Shi'ite leaders and their media outlets. However, al-Dulaymi has never hidden his support for Sunni insurgents -- which he calls the "resistance." Nor has he hidden his disdain for the Shi'ite-dominated government and Shi'ite militias that often target Sunni Arabs.
Reports in the Shi'ite press have linked al-Dulaymi to terrorist attacks, including the April bombing of the Al-Sarrafiyah Bridge in Baghdad and the January incident in Al-Najaf in which an Al-Qaeda-linked messianic group called the Army of Heaven purportedly attempted to storm the city during the Shi'ite Ashura festival and kill pilgrims and senior clerics. The media have quoted al-Dulaymi as defending a suicide bomber's actions, which he allegedly said were carried out due to depression. He has called April 9, the day the Saddam Hussein regime fell, as a day of sadness and mourning.
Moreover, al-Dulaymi has long been accused of forcibly displacing or killing Shi'ite families from the Al-Adl and Al-Jami'ah neighborhoods in Baghdad. The press has also claimed that Sunnis living in those areas of western Baghdad that al-Dulaymi's security personnel control have been forced to commit violence at his behest. More than 100 families from the Al-Adl neighborhood where al-Dulaymi's compound sits have filed legal complaints against his guards "regarding killings and forcing people out of their houses," Brigadier General Ata said on December 5.
Al-Dulaymi has also been accused of being sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, arguably the two most vicious insurgent groups operating in Iraq today. In July, Khalaf al-Ulayyan, an ally of al-Dulaymi in the Accordance Front, threatened that the front would turn to armed resistance if the demands it made to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as part of its boycott of the government were not met.
Also, al-Dulaymi staunchly defended Sunni cleric Harith al-Dari's Muslim Scholars Association after it was closed in November by the Sunni Waqf (Endowments) office. The association, along with its radio station, was closed because of its support for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Dari is also said to be financing a nationalist insurgent group called the 1920 Revolution Brigades.
Too Politically Important To Touch
The allegations linking al-Dulaymi to attacks on Al-Adl Awakening Council members highlights the fragile political situation confronting the government when it comes to dealing with the politician and his allies from the Accordance Front.
Al-Dulaymi has come out publicly in support of the formation of awakening councils, groups formed by Sunni Arabs to battle terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda. However, he made it known in recent months that representatives from those councils would not be welcome in the halls of government.
In a November 22 interview with the website elaph.com, al-Dulaymi discussed Prime Minister al-Maliki's threat to replace Accordance Front ministers -- who boycotted participation in the government in August -- with Sunni Arab leaders from the Al-Anbar Awakening Council. He claimed that Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah, the assassinated leader of the council, said before his death that the council and others like it could not be a substitute for the Accordance Front. "We are deputies elected by the Iraqi people," al-Dulaymi said. "We are the real, official representatives of an important political, demographic, and sectarian component of Iraq. We think the government will, in the end be forced to deal with the deputies from the Accordance Front." He threatened that if al-Maliki "does not accept the demands presented by the Accordance Front...it will not be possible to achieve any reconstruction and it will also not be possible to achieve security."
Al-Dulaymi is not without supporters. In a commentary published in May in the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," the daily's former editor in chief and the current manager of Al-Arabiyah television, Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid, wrote: "The present [Iraqi] government does not seem to appreciate the nature of the sacrifices that a person like al-Dulaymi is making. It would be a mistake to compare al-Dulaymi with his counterparts among the Shi'ite leaders.... The Iraqi government would be losing its most important ally if it does not provide him with protection from the attacks against him in parliament and from the dangers he faces on the street."
Continuing, he wrote: "The prime minister does not need only to resist the takfiris [those Muslims who consider other Muslims infidels] and the rest of the Shi'ite and Sunni criminals. He also needs to win over the Sunnis, particularly since he has proclaimed that national reconciliation is his primary goal. Since [Shi'ite] deputy [Hazim] al-A'raji is harassing his colleague al-Dulaymi and claiming that he supports terrorism, the logical question that is asked is: 'Why does al-Dulaymi need all this?' All he has to do is to resign so that the situation would become worse inside Iraq and the entire region."
While it remains unclear whether any real violence could come in the wake of replacing al-Dulaymi and his associates with other Arab representatives, it is unlikely the government would take action at this time against al-Dulaymi, no matter what evidence it has against him. The government is too weak and the political alliances too fragile to withstand such a move.
Moreover, as al-Dulaymi asserts, such a move would hinder any progress toward reconciliation with nationalist groups. As it stands, it appears that there is a slow and steady momentum building in talks to forge reconciliation with nationalist resistance groups, including the defunct Ba'ath Party. From al-Maliki's perspective, any obstacles to progress could take months or even years to rectify. And if there's one thing the Iraqi government cannot afford to waste, it's time.