Since the British charity Islamic Help aids Hamas, it is no surprise that it has chosen a rather special partner for its operations in Iraq.
It is the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad’s Adhamiya district.
Adhamiya is a Sunni stronghold and home to many former employees of the security forces of Saddam Hussein. In fact, as his regime crumbled around him in April 2003, Saddam made his last public appearance in front of the mosque, before slinking away from Baghdad.
Others stayed behind to fight. When coalition troops reached the mosque, Iraqis and foreign jihadis based there fired some of the last shots of the conventional battle for Baghdad.
Nine days later, the rabble-rousing kicked off in style. Out with Saddam, in with anti-American and anti-Israeli anger in the name of Islam:
“This is not the America we know. The America we know respects international law, respects the right of people,” Islamic scholar Ahmed al-Kubaisi told the massive worshippers in Imam Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad.
Accusing the United States of launching the war in support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Kubaisi called for forming a Council of Shiite and Sunni scholars to see whether the would-be Iraqi administration should be approved or not.
The masses poured out of the mosque, carrying copies of the holy Koran and waving banners that read “No to America, No to Secular state. Yes to Islamic State.”
“Leave our country, we want peace,” one banner read.
Leading the angry demonstrators, Kubaisi said Iraqis had been betrayed by Saddam, who has disappeared along with most of his government members.
“Saddam was the one who betrayed his people and ignored them and escaped,” he said.
You can see part of al-Kubaisi’s speech in this report. It also covers the mosque’s “martyr’s cemetery”. In the darkest years of unconventional battle after the invasion, it filled up rapidly as Iraqi and foreign jhadis fought US and Iraqi forces in Adhamiya and easily found death.
The mosque was a strong supporter of the jihadis, and was itself raided several times by US and Iraqi soldiers.
In 2004, when hostage takers were snatching victim after victim in Iraq, a Norwegian journalist managed to interview a man from the mosque, Munir al-Obaidi. He said the hostage takers “might have a point” if they picked the right targets, including people who did nothing more than supply water or fuel to soldiers or security guards:
In the large and important Abu Hanifa mosque, we met Sheikh Munir al-Obaidi:
“In principle, we are against taking hostages, especially journalists and civilians. But in the case of soldiers or people who help the occupation forces, the hostage takers might have a point”, he says.
And Sheik Munir has a wide definition of people who help the occupation forces. It is not limited to the numerous security guard companies consisting of former elite soldiers that flourish in Iraq.
“According to the religious point of view, everyone who co-operates with the occupation forces is an occupier. This also applies to those who provide water, weapons or fuel. No matter what their contribution is, they belong to the occupiers”, Munir maintains.
Islamic Help has appointed (pdf) Munir al-Obaidi to manage the charity’s Iraqi affairs:
Islamic Help has been providing for Iraqi people from within the heart of Baghdad. Islamic Help has its own office in the Imam Abu Hanifa Mosque and we have enlisted the services of Shaykh Dr Munir Al Obaidi as chief co-ordinator.
For American soldiers, Adhamiya meant horror. Here is one account of a typical “right near Abu Hanifa Mosque where all the (expletive) always happened” attack in May 2007 from Stars and Stripes:
Martinez: I mean, the burns were all over his body. And his face was charred, like, gray. I’m sending up the report to say what his status is, and I see he’s going into shock. His equipment was still kind of smoldering. And I didn’t even think about it when I threw him in. I just wanted to get him away from the fire, away from the rounds going off all around us. He had a vest that went over his body armor. Normally, you could open it with the Velcro, but it had a zipper that ran from the bottom of the vest to the top, and that whole zipper melted together and wouldn’t move.
Nuñez: I run back to the Humvee again, and I’m closer now, and I see Avila on the ground, like, 5 feet from the Humvee, just sitting.
Martinez: He climbed up out of the gunner’s hatch and then jumped off and broke his legs when he jumped off.
Nuñez: He wasn’t on fire; he was just smoking. He’s a big guy. He was, like, 240 pounds. I dragged him out and I was looking for somewhere safe to put him to protect him from all the explosions going off.
Taylor: I took a round in the side plate from the ammo cooking off. They were going all over the place.
Nuñez: We were taking fire, too. I didn’t focus on that. My focus was just on the guys. There were two helicopters that were flying by. It was a — I don’t know — act of God that he decided to send those two helicopters and provide us with cover. They were hovering right above us. What they say they saw was 40, 50 dudes with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and AKs running toward the smoke because of the fire. So they were coming to finish us off.
What a hood.
These days Adhamiya has emerged from the worst of its hell. Like a great number of their fellows in other Sunni areas in Iraq, as 2007 progressed, many of its inhabitants finally realised that al Qaeda was their enemy too, and they turned against it. Moreover, hated US forces turned out to be rather useful to have around when Shia terrorists came calling in Adhamiya and beyond. In a marriage of bloodied convenience, presided over by a surging General Petraeus, a sort of peace was found.
This symbolic bridge opening in November 2008 was one marker of the transition.
Note the fears of a man interviewed on what, ideally, would have been an occasion for mass celebration of peace and reconciliation, bringing all violence in Baghdad to an end.
Well, ideal and Iraq are two words that are still strangers to one another. There is plenty of disappointment, trepidation and anger left over.
Islamic Help chose its sectarian side in Baghdad in the worst of times. Should Adhamiya fall into the deepest pits once again, presumably the charity could be counted on to remain loyal.
If you would like to support that side, and help Hamas too, now you know where to donate.