The crisis of Sunni religious leadership in Iraq

I'm an image! 2022 / 24 / Jun


Sunni religious leaders in Iraq receive less attention from political observers than their Shiite counterparts, despite playing roles in the country's difficult path over the past twenty years, during which they lived through totalitarian rule, civil sectarian conflict, and then the era of the terrorist organization ISIS. The political fragmentation of the Sunni religious leadership has reflected—and in some cases helped fuel—internal Sunni conflicts and disagreements and has prevented the Sunni community from coming to terms with its desired place in “post-Saddam Iraq.” Iraqi Sunni clerics have repeatedly tried, but failed, to develop the kind of (centralized) religious leadership that would enable them to function as a cohesive force in the public political arena, in parallel with the religious leadership of the Shiite community represented by the “Hawza of Najaf.”

Sunni religious leaders in Iraq occupy a “strange and different position,” and Sunni Islam has long been an official state-sponsored sect in modern Iraq, meaning its institutions are funded and managed by a government body. However, unlike the “Islamic patronage model” in Egypt or some other Arab countries, the Iraqi Sunni leadership does not have a single leader or traditional (central) decision-making body.


To compensate for the lack of unified religious leadership, a broad spectrum of Sunni religious leaders share a professional or jurisprudential identity and often come from common educational backgrounds and certain beliefs about the nature of society and politics in Iraq. Despite this, they were never able to reach a consensus on the Sunni community’s relationship with the “post-Saddam regime,” which led to failure and division, which sometimes had dire consequences for the Iraqi Sunni community in general.


The rise and fall of the "Islamic State - ISIS" did not change the basis of division or end the political fragmentation of the Sunni religious leadership. Despite the expulsion of ISIS from all major Sunni cities, there is no clear vision for the participation of the Sunni community in post-Baathist Iraq under the leadership of the Shiites. Examining the failed efforts of the Sunni religious leadership to come to terms with the political realities of “post-Saddam Iraq” can reveal the contours of future challenges. The experience of Iraq indicates that official religious institutions sponsored by the state cannot be considered a useful ally in supporting the fight against radical Islamic extremism.


First: Before ISIS: Sunni doctrine in Iraq


The structure of Sunni religious institutions in Iraq makes them vulnerable to political influences, but they are not determined to play political roles in an effective and influential manner. Sunni religious officials, from Friday preachers to muezzins and even mosque workers, are government employees, paid salaries, and subject to civil service laws. Historically, since Ottoman rule, Sunnis have always enjoyed official state patronage in Iraq.


After the founding of modern Iraq in 1921, official patronage became increasingly tight and bureaucratic, as royal governments adopted more stringent regulations and laws for managing endowments and charitable funds, including conducting transparent bidding for contracts to build or repair mosques. By the late 1950s, the Republican government of Abdul Karim Qasim considered mosque preachers and other religious workers to be government employees and granted them official retirement rights. While Shiite religious leaders who operated outside the government institutional umbrella by relying on “donations [the fifth and legal rights]” to finance their activities, avoided the bureaucratic procedures to which Sunni religious leaders were subjected and were therefore not greatly affected by government legislation, which now effectively applied only to Sunni mosques.


During the Ba'ath era, official state control over Sunni clerics was further tightened, as the authorities sought to view religious leaders as supporters of the ruling regime. The Law on Service in Religious and Charitable Institutions of 1976 imposed on preachers to preach Baathist achievements in ritual sermons, including “the achievements of the July 17 Revolution,” as an example; Islamic secondary schools, which train aspiring young Sunni preachers, were directed to give their students a “patriotic, nationalistic, spiritual, and revolutionary education.” The central state also placed higher religious education under its control. The Great Imam College in Baghdad, which was renamed in 1985 to the “Higher Islamic Institute for the Preparation of Imams and Preachers,” replaced traditional indoctrination relations with a university academic curriculum in a more scientific manner. 

Sunni religious leaders' acceptance of state control creates a sharp contrast with the status of their Shiite counterparts and their relationship with authority. This can be partly explained by the fact that Ba'ath leaders were formally considered Sunni Muslims. But there are more fundamental differences regarding the social status of clerics. Shiite mujtahids were revered and esteemed by the general public, while Sunni religious leaders lacked this kind of popularity and popularity.


Sunni religious people lack the sacred Shiite financing system [the fifth], and the Sunni public does not have religious activities similar to the Shiite ceremonial rituals that depend on mobilizing popular feelings, especially among the poor and uneducated groups in the southern countryside. While in Sunni areas, in the early to mid-twentieth century, the social majority was uneducated, in rural communities they were largely indifferent to religious participation, even attending mosques was non-existent. Therefore, state support for building mosques and training preachers in republican Iraq, especially under Ba'ath rule, may be viewed by most Sunni religious leaders as a welcome patronage, rather than an attempted takeover of society.


The “Faith Campaign,” launched by Saddam Hussein in 1993, promoted a new concept of the relationship between the “patron-client” relationship, meaning the relationship between the state and Sunni religious leaders, as the authorities allocated additional resources and attention to mosques and religious education. However, the campaign was a representation of Saddam Hussein's idiosyncratic whims, while the political system remained secular, the consumption of alcohol remained legal, and the court system was based on Western civil legislation and not inspired by Islamic law. Meanwhile, religious activists suspected of undermining the ruling regime or organizing political Islamic groups faced continued repression by the security services.


The reactions of the Sunni religious elite to the “Campaign of Faith” were divided into two main camps:


• In The first camp, many preachers welcomed and even participated in passing on the Baathist project of reviving Islamic values mixed with Arab nationalism, through rhetorical metaphors and narratives that were dictated by the political climate of the country in the 1990s, where anti-"imperialism" and "Zionism" were major topics in religious sermons. ; At the same time, the government media began using jurisprudential arguments to discredit Shiite Islam as a way to justify the repressive actions of Saddam's regime after the southern Shiite uprising in 1991.


• The second camp was joined by several Sunni leaders and activists influenced by the doctrine of the “Muslim Brotherhood,” considering social reforms based on the “Islamization of society” as a more important goal than what the ruling regime could gain from its new geopolitical orientation. Since they were unable to organize themselves politically; They took advantage of the religious campaign to form their charitable and Islamic advocacy organizations. They focused on imposing the “veil” and covering women’s hair and obtained special permission to import “women’s Islamic clothing” with the help of their sympathizers in the Iraqi Sunni diaspora, who in turn collected money for this and other Islamic advocacy purposes.

These two camps did not clash in direct conflict in the 1990s; But the division between them became more clear after 2003, especially between supporters and opponents of the political process formed under the auspices of the American occupation.

Second: Invasion and rebellion: The dilemma of Sunni religious leaders

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 created an almost intractable dilemma between Sunni religious leaders and the Iraqi state that pays their salaries, which is now under US tutelage, and many Sunnis do not trust a new political process controlled by Shiite Islamists and Kurdish nationalists. Sunni Arab religious leaders have long preached “Iraqi patriotism,” but they have been confused between “patriotism,” which means supporting the government, or opposing the American invasion. There is an added factor; The ideology of “resistance” advocated by Sunni clerics became closely aligned with Sunni religious sentiment throughout the region.


Two approaches to this dilemma emerged among the most prominent Sunni religious leaders in the media, and it seemed a successful approach for some time. It was the approach of the hard line against the American occupation, led by the Al-Azhari cleric Harith Al-Dhari, who was teaching preachers at the Higher Institute for Preparing Preachers and Preachers during the days of the “Campaign of Faith.”


The Dari began organizing the clergy soon after the invasion, initially focusing on humanitarian affairs. But Dhari's group, known as the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, quickly adopted political rhetoric, assuming that Sunni militants would eventually oust the United States and be celebrated as heroes. While the body praised the rebels, it carefully avoided any explicit calls inciting violence that might lead to the arrest or prosecution of its members. It also called for a boycott of the general elections, arguing that the United States would dominate its results. Al-Dhari envisioned that the “Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq” would be the equivalent of the Shiite authority led by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who emerged as a decisive religious and spiritual leader regarding structural issues in post-2003 Iraq. 

Al-Dari’s comparison of the “Association of Muslim Scholars” with the Shiite religious authority seemed unrealistic, as the organization is a new political entity, with no historical or theological basis for its authority. In essence, it was a special committee of clerics united by a vision that Iraq was amid a resistance to free itself from foreign occupation. Within a few months of its establishment, the Authority issued a newspaper in its name called (Al-Basa’ir). The title appears to have been an intentional reference to a newspaper of the same name, published in Algeria in the 1930s by an association of clerics opposed to the French occupation.


The Association of Muslim Scholars nominally had collective leadership, but in practice, the Dari dominated leadership and decision-making. His point of view was partly influenced by his social background: his grandfather, Dhari al-Mahmoud, was a sheikh from the Shammar tribe, and a popular figure in the 1920 revolt against the British occupation of Iraq.


While the Association of Muslim Scholars claimed to speak on behalf of the Sunni clerics on political issues, it had no actual administrative authority over the clerical class. The bureaucratic authority, such as the administrative authority subordinated to the Sunni clerics, is unique to the Sunni Endowment Institution. In the summer of 2003, sectarian division led to the Iraqi Ministry of Endowments being structured into three separate endowments for Shiites, Sunnis, and minorities. Since most Shiite mosques and endowments were never under the control of the Iraqi state, the new Sunni endowment retained most of the mosques and resources that were in the custody of the dissolved Ministry of Endowments, while maintaining the same tasks of financing, managing, and supervising the mosques in a manner consistent with the policy of the new state.


The newly created Sunni Endowment did not adopt Al-Dhari’s position of rejecting the political process. Since the endowment is a government institution, naming its president falls within the powers of the “Iraqi Governing Council,” which in turn granted the right to manage the endowment to the Iraqi Islamic Party, which served as a representative of the global network of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was able to develop its party tools in Iraq during the nineties. The party's main leaders were older men who were active in the Muslim Brotherhood movement in pre-Baath Iraq. Despite adopting the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iraqi Islamic Party consciously defines itself as independent from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The party's leaders were also convinced that engaging in the US-led political process - or as they called it "peaceful resistance" - was a better path for the Sunnis as an alternative to violent rebellion. The Islamic Party appointed Adnan Al-Dulaimi, a university professor, as head of the Sunni Endowment, as he is Islamic and sympathetic to the party’s approach.


Al-Dulaimi has been active since the 1950s within the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Although he was not considered a cleric or jurist, he was well-known in Sunni religious circles. In the 1990s, he fled Iraq to Jordan after he became wanted by the security services as a Brotherhood member. During the same period, he toured the Arab world to collect money for Islamic charitable networks and reach donors through a letter of recommendation from the famous Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi. This money was used to Islamize Iraqi society in conjunction with the government's faith campaign.


The Association of Muslim Scholars and the Sunni Endowment soon found themselves adopting opposing views and policies. Al-Dari and Al-Dulaimi, who had a friendly relationship before 2003, became rivals. While the Commission called for a boycott of the elections and praised the “resistance,” Al-Dulaimi was mobilizing public gatherings to encourage Sunni participation in the parliamentary elections, and helped obtain a fatwa from religious scholars opposed to the Dari line, in which they considered joining the army and police a “religious duty.” But in the end, Al-Dulaimi was dismissed from his position as head of the Sunni Endowment, in July 2005, after his political activity in organizing the Sunnis electorally and opposing the Shiite authority sparked the anger of the Al-Jaafari government, so he was replaced by his deputy, Ahmed Abdel Ghafour Al-Samarrai, in a relatively smooth transition. Al-Samarrai retreated from supporting direct electoral propaganda but continued Al-Dulaimi's approach in dealing with the Iraqi state as "legitimate" despite its dependence on American military support.


As the armed conflict escalated, the line of the Association of Muslim Scholars became more hardline, as it refused to condemn the increasing abuses of the Salafi-jihadist rebels, and blamed the bombings that led to the loss of large numbers of civilians on “America and Zionist agents.” Over time, this led to increasing splits within the ranks of the Sunni community. An arrest warrant was issued against Al-Dari in 2006, forcing him to flee to Jordan. The Sunni Endowment also seized the headquarters of the “Association of Muslim Scholars” in the Umm Al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad in 2007. Despite this, the Commission continued to issue statements from abroad, while its influence inside Iraq diminished, especially after the death of Harith Al-Dari in Amman in March 2015.


A complete history of Sunni clerical politics during the post-Saddam period is beyond the scope of this study, but there are three important observations:

1) The imams and preachers who worked during the Saddam era were not expelled from service [the de-Baathification procedures], but rather Al-Dulaimi worked to appoint more employees within the Sunni endowment staff.

2) The dispute between the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Sunni Endowment took place with the greatest possible rhetorical restraint, without resorting to defamation.

3) Sunni religious leaders were never able to agree on a common political strategy. 

Third: After the American withdrawal: Towards a Sunni reference?

The American withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011 was supposed to be an opportunity for a new beginning for the Sunni religious leadership. With no more foreign troops in the country, the legitimacy of the Iraqi state was widely accepted by Sunnis and even critics of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Only a few of the more hardline Baathists and Salafist jihadists in the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) insisted that the country was under some sort of covert American or Iranian control, despite many reservations about Maliki's leadership, most Sunni religious leaders were looking for ways to integrate into, not challenge, the new Iraqi political order.


The state and the Sunni religious leadership enshrined their shared desire for cooperation or at least respectful coexistence. In the Sunni Endowment Law No. 56 of 2012, which was approved by the Iraqi Council of Representatives in October of that year, it stipulated continued state support for Sunni mosques through the Sunni Endowment reference. It also established a mechanism to ensure the theoretical independence of the endowment from political authority, and restricted the prime minister’s authority to choose the Head of the endowment, granted to the “Iraqi Jurisprudence Academy for Senior Scholars for Preaching and Fatwa.”


The Iraqi Jurisprudence Council of Senior Scholars for Preaching and Fatwas is the most serious Sunni attempt to implement an idea advocated by Harith al-Dhari since 2003, to create a Sunni entity equivalent to the Shiite authority. Sunni religious leaders talked about the idea of establishing a council of prominent religious scholars in 2007. Only in 2012 did he announce its formation after agreeing on the names. Since the Council aspired to be a Sunni equivalent to the Shiite religious leadership in Najaf, it defined itself in its internal law as “an independent legal authority for the Sunnis, like the religious authorities in Iraq, neither governmental nor a civil society organization. It does not need any law or legislation.” to establish it.


The Fiqh Academy has no historical basis for its authority, while the rationale behind its establishment was a political need to create a Sunni authority. The issuance of this law reflects a certain degree of confidence by Iraqi politicians that Sunni religious leaders will no longer undermine the new state and can therefore be trusted to manage their affairs. But ironically, it may have been designed in part to allay Shiite religious leaders' concerns about their independence from state control. The Sunni Endowment Law No. 56 of 2012 was issued alongside the Shiite Endowment Law No. 57 of 2012, which stipulates that the head of the Shiite Endowments can be appointed “by the Council of Ministers after obtaining the approval of the highest religious authority,” and he is the Sharia scholar from Najaf scholars accepted by the majority. Shiites in Iraq for imitation. The Shiite endowment [in terms of property] - is a much smaller institution than its Sunni counterpart.


Most Shiite mosques and educational institutions in Iraq were and still are organized and funded outside state channels. However, the need to respect the independence of the Shiite authority from state control may have necessitated legislative recognition of parallel Sunni independence, although this lacked a corresponding historical precedent. The Fiqh Academy quickly proved unable to fulfill the leadership role it demanded and for which it gained state recognition.


Fourth: The return of violence and the failure of the Sunni authority


An attempt to normalize the loose relationship between the new political regime and Sunni Islam quickly failed. The main reason is the failure of Sunni religious leaders to reach a common political strategy, as well as their tendency to overestimate the strength of the Sunni community. In a parallel sense, these leaders adopted a (demagogic) discourse by proposing unrealistic solutions and proposals.


An arrest warrant against former Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi caused the outbreak of widespread popular protests in all Sunni governorates against the [second] government of Nouri al-Maliki in December 2012. The protests derived their energy from the combination of the response of Sunni elites rejecting the arrests of Sunni politicians, in addition to popular Sunni anger. Year on the actions of the Iraqi security forces, which were characterized by launching mass arrests, torturing Sunni men, and sometimes executing malicious arrest warrants in the context of counter-terrorism operations, but they were simply a form of kidnapping and extortion in exchange for corrupt security officers receiving “ransoms” and bribes in exchange for the release of detainees. Innocent people.


The protest movement, although peaceful, increased tensions between the Sunni community and the Iraqi government to a dangerous level, and later paved the way for the fall of Fallujah to ISIS fighters in January 2014, and Mosul in June of the same year. There are observations on the course of the Sunni protest movement and the role of religious leaders in it:


Almost from the beginning, Sunni religious leaders jumped to the forefront of the protest movement, putting their stamp on its tactics and demands. Friday has become the golden time for protest, and Friday prayers, which are held as gatherings at the city or governorate level in open spaces that include religious sermons with political themes, have become the standard driver of protest. The idea of using Friday prayers as a form of political demonstration may have been borrowed from “Sunni revolutionaries” in neighboring Syria. In addition to employing a religious ritual as a driving force for the protest, “protest gatherings” were often given political motivational names, such as, “Maliki or Iraq Friday”... “Iraq Friday is our choice”... etc. To support the protest momentum, the Fiqh Council and the religious institution cooperated to close neighborhood mosques on certain “Friday” days to encourage worshipers to perform prayers at central gatherings and protest sites. 

Sunni religious leaders, as the most prominent supporters of the protests, bear most of the responsibility for the movement's inability to reach an agreement summarizing a set of common demands. The protest wing, led by young Sunni clerics allied with the Islamic Party, was demanding an autonomous Sunni region, similar to the experience of the Kurdistan region. Therefore, it was completely unexpected that a Shiite-led government would agree to establish Sunni autonomy. Despite this, the idea was popular among some segments of Sunni society. As a call, it seemed effective in mobilizing support for the protest movement and placing its leaders at the forefront of the political scene.


The second wing of the Sunni protest movement, led by older clerics, flatly rejected the idea of establishing an autonomous region, adhering to the option of preserving Iraq's territorial integrity, with the belief (albeit mistaken) that Sunnis constitute the country's population majority, through which it could eventually be restored. Control of the state through democratic means. Their rhetoric was more divisive than that of Sunni autonomy advocates.


The main opponent of the movement demanding the formation of a Sunni region was the prominent cleric Abd al-Malik al-Saadi, a scholar born in Anbar who moved to Jordan a few years before the fall of the Baath Party regime. He issued fatwas demanding that Iraqis not participate in the elections because the results were falsified by the Americans. Al-Saadi's return in December 2012, to Iraq for the first time since the mid-nineties, was widely welcomed among Sunni protesters, who considered him a spiritual leader of their movement. Therefore, Al-Saadi’s speech focused on rejecting the political process formed after 2003, and the necessity of restoring the dissolved Iraqi army.


In addition to the provocative demand to organize a general population census on a sectarian basis to know the number of Sunni and Shiite citizens; Al-Saadi was convinced that the Sunnis were the largest component in Iraq. During the year 2013, Al-Saadi and the “Fiqh Council” issued fatwas and competing calls for and against “federalism,” considering that the formation of new regions and autonomous regions was “forbidden by law” because it “weakens and divides” the country. The Fiqh Academy went ahead with holding a conference of clerics in support of implementing federalism, within the framework that Islam allows the establishment of federal autonomous regions, and that the peaceful debate must continue about their suitability for solving the country’s problems. The supporters of the Sunni region considered the adoption of the option of supporting federalism a victory for them, and a rebuke to Al-Saadi, who responded with an angry jurisprudential fatwa, in which he considered the call for the formation of a Sunni region “forbidden by law” and incompatible with Islamic law, raising questions about the legitimacy of the “Fiqh Academy’s” claim to be a Sunni authority: “The claim that the statement [the statement of the Fiqh Academy] comes from Iraq’s senior scholars... is inaccurate, as many of the senior scholars did not participate... Moreover, the majority of those present at the Sunni regional conference, despite my respect for all of them, cannot be properly described by this term [scholars].


The Sunni community's lack of a shared political vision led to the protest movement's eventual failure. Instead of being a source of unity, Sunni religious leaders actively contributed to deepening divisions and betrayed the idea that the birth of a unified Sunni religious leadership could lead society. While one religious wing was calling for an autonomous region, another wing was denouncing the idea as a "heresy." Al-Saadi suggested at one point that he or his representatives lead negotiations with the government at the Shrine of Imam Askari in Samarra, and his proposal was rejected by the government and Shiite forces. The Sunni clerics' lack of unified leadership may have been a factor in the Shiite rejection.


Ultimately, Maliki's [second] government worked with a minority of Sunni politicians loyal to him to suppress the protest movement. In November 2013, the Council of Ministers, at the request of Sunni MP Ahmed al-Jubouri, loyal to al-Maliki, ordered the “termination of the work” of the head of the Sunni Endowment, Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, and replaced him with his deputy, Mahmoud al-Sumaidaie. Al-Samarrai's expulsion was based on allegations of corruption, but the goal was to cut off funding for mosques and imams supporting the protest movement. But by this time, the protests were so popular within the Sunni community – and had greater support in religious circles – that they could not be easily suppressed.


There is no doubt that the “Fiqh Academy” was upset that its authority under the Sunni Endowment Law was being ignored, but it had no real historical roots that struck deep within the Sunni community, in addition to lacking sufficient effective political influence. On the day that Al-Samarrai was dismissed, the council ordered the closure of all Baghdad mosques for two days. The resolution was framed as part of the broader Sunni protest struggle.


Most likely, the members of the council realized that the Sunni majority, including the activists of the protest movement, did not see that he had the right to appoint the head of the Sunni Endowment, or that he was the solid rock for which one must die. Two days later, it became clear to the Fiqh Academy that the open closure of Sunni mosques in Baghdad was not a viable strategy, so it changed course, reversed course, and ordered their reopening, “in response to calls” from politicians and public figures. 

The Sunni protest movement came to a bloody end in January 2014, when Iraqi security forces attempted to evacuate protest sites in Anbar, while gunmen took control of the city of Fallujah. Abdul Malik Al-Saadi supported the uprising and issued a statement in which he called on the residents of Anbar to “defend their faith, their honor, and their land” against what he described as “occupiers,” accusing Al-Maliki of trying to “exterminate” the Sunnis. In turn, the Fiqh Council issued a somewhat vague and confusing statement, in which it called for the continuation of the Friday protests, and called on the Anbaris to “defend themselves, as it is a legal and religious duty.” Although Al-Saadi and the Jurisprudence Council did not put aside their differences over Sunni political goals, they agreed to issue religious justifications for violently confronting the army and security forces in Anbar, which represented an actual return to rebellion.


Not all Sunni Anbaris rushed to take up arms in response to these fatwas. Many of them are still filled with horrific memories of how the rebellion descended into nihilistic violence in the years 2004-2005, and they fear entering a new round of violence and fighting that will end just as badly. Even Sunni politicians sympathetic to the protest movement have realized that religious leaders who unleash violence will never actually be able to control it. The governor of Anbar, Ahmed Al-Dhiyabi, a member of the Islamic Party, undoubtedly spoke to many when he announced in a television speech that he would side with the government, not the religious leaders calling for rebellion in the name of “self-defense.”


Fifth: Sunni religious leaders confronting ISIS


The violence that erupted in 2014, launched with the enthusiastic approval of many Sunni religious leaders, proved disastrous for the Sunni community. ISIS was one of several factions leading a large-scale Sunni insurgency in Anbar, which used Stalinist-style salami tactics to absorb and destroy armed factions active in Fallujah. By the fall of Mosul in June 2014, it only took a few weeks for the organization to impose its control over that city and other areas from which government forces fled in north-central Iraq.


Sunni religious leaders were slow to adapt. Two weeks after the fall of Mosul, and just days before the declaration of the “establishment of the caliphate” on June 30, 2014, Al-Saadi [Abdul Malik] was still publicly insisting that what was happening was a “revolution,” and that “ISIS” was just a small and marginal faction, while it was the first The Fiqh Academy’s response to the fall of Mosul is to call for “disciplined resistance factions and tribal revolutionaries” to control security in the Sunni provinces.


The expectations of the Sunni forces quickly proved incorrect, when the "Islamic State - ISIS" declared the establishment of the "Caliphate" and began physically liquidating members of the rival Sunni factions, which forced Abdul Malik Al-Saadi to return to Jordan again and continue issuing statements and political positions that put "ISIS" in danger. "And the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces are on the same page. While the “Fiqh Academy” continued to carry out its activities from Baghdad, issuing repeated public condemnations of the actions of government forces and militias against the Sunnis, and as a courtesy, it condemned the attacks on the Christians of Mosul later in the year 2014, without directing a clear criticism of ISIS, despite targeting it. Sunni clerics, imams, and preachers of mosques affiliated with the Sunni Endowment.


Perhaps the silence of the Fiqh Academy regarding condemnation of ISIS’s actions is explained by its conviction that the ongoing war in Sunni areas was caused by the policies of the Shiite government, and therefore it is not able to address the situation in those areas. Also, some Sunni clerics have doubts that ISIS is not the real group, believing that it is part of a “foreign conspiracy,” when the “Council” alluded to this in a statement condemning the attacks against Christians: “Such actions (...) are not in our interest, because there are those who lie in wait for Islam and Muslims, using allegations of violence and fanaticism.” To attack and destroy Iraq and displace its people under the pretext of terrorism.”


To confront religious extremism, the Iraqi government resorted once again to appoint a new head of the Sunni Endowment, well-known in religious circles, but politically obedient, so Abdul Latif Al-Humaim was chosen, one of the preachers and supporters of the government’s faith campaign in the 1990s, and one of Saddam’s praisers who were full of praise and reverence for the personality of the president who embodied It contains Arab and Islamic values, even after the demise of the previous regime. However; In June 2015, Al-Humaim was appointed acting head of the Sunni Endowment by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in flagrant violation of the Sunni Endowment Law, which stipulates that the “Fiqh Academy” shall name the head of the endowment. Therefore, the “Sounding Council” considered the appointment “illegal,” but did not Hamim condemn or call for any kind of protest or disobedience by the Waqf employees against the decision. Despite the dispute with the Prime Minister, the council continued its relationship and meetings with Al-Abadi from time to time.

Al-Humaim's appointment revealed the weakness of the Jurisprudence Council and the absence of real consensus among Sunni clerics. Al-Humaim is a cunning and ambitious man, but he is also a dissident from the traditional Sunni circle. He is wealthy and owns businesses. He continued to exert pressure on Iraqi religious and political circles to win the position of head of the Sunni Endowment, in light of his ability to challenge the “Jurisprudence Academy” and the strong support he received from dozens of Sunni representatives. Those who promoted that he would present a more moderate tone in Sunni mosque sermons and retreat from the angry “Sunni protest” rhetoric that accompanied the rise of ISIS. On the other hand, Sunni representatives, siding with the “Fiqh Academy,” criticized his appointment. 

Al-Humaim considered the presidency of the Sunni Endowment to be more than just an administrative position, and he went beyond that to meetings with military commanders to encourage them to fight against ISIS. He was appointed head of the reconstruction committee for the city of Ramadi - his birthplace - after its liberation from ISIS in early 2016. He was Al-Hameem’s dominance over the reconstruction file in Ramadi could have given it a strong political base that would enable it to challenge the local government in Anbar, which was dominated by the Islamic Party [at the time], but Al-Hemim carried out the task worse than bad, and hastened the return of the displaced in early 2016 to the city. It has not yet been completely cleared of mines and explosive devices. Al-Humaim’s fortune and influence were greatly damaged in 2017, due to corruption and mismanagement, especially accusations by some Sunni representatives that he used the endowment funds to pay bribes and rewards to journalists in exchange for broadcasting biased and positive reports about him. He was convicted and sentenced to a suspended prison sentence for misuse of public funds. While his initiative achieved success by imposing the “unified sermon” policy on the mosques of Mosul after ISIS. Although the Jurisprudence Council did not officially recognize the legitimacy and authority of Al-Hayam over the endowment, it was dealing with it as a fait accompli. In early 2017, the Council and Al-Hayam held a joint meeting with a visiting Azhar delegation.


Al-Himim worked to politicize the Sunni endowment and make it more loyal to the government, based on his long previous experience in consolidating his relationship with the Baathist authority. It seemed striking how willing the Sunni clerics - and their followers - were to accept the idea that the authority to manage Sunni mosques throughout Iraq would be in the hands of a man. A corrupt person with poor religious qualifications who was convicted of corruption like a wild card. The Iraqi state’s recognition of Al-Himim - even under a Shiite-led government - makes his authority legitimate even without any religious cover. This is the point of view of a Sunni politician, who stressed in the summer of 2016 that “our reference as Sunnis has always been the state itself.”


Despite this, the Sunni scene is still confused about the meaning of “loyalty to Iraq,” and this confusion stands as an obstacle to the formation of a unified reference for the Sunni religious leadership. Sunni clerics who fled to the Kurdistan region or neighboring countries - most notably the Mufti of Iraq, Rafi’ Al-Rifai - continue to call for the establishment of a Sunni autonomous region, despite the decline in the demand’s political popularity.


On the other side stands Mahdi Al-Sumaidaie, a Salafist who was imprisoned by American forces for his role in the rebellion, and who is now politically allied with pro-Iranian Shiite groups, whose bias is justified as support for the discourse of Islamic unity. But at the same time, he has his militia (Ahrar al-Iraq) as part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, where he claims to have thousands of fighters, while the real number is much less. Therefore, the idea of pro-Iranian Sunni Salafism is unlikely to attract the broader spectrum of Iraqi Sunnis.


The ISIS experience made Sunni religious leaders warier of being drawn into rebellious adventures, but it was also not a decisive factor in uniting their ranks behind a common leader or set of principles, which makes them unable to perform the role similar to the Shiite authority to which they have long aspired to represent and lead society. And in the future; A fragmented, state-dependent Sunni religious leadership is more likely to play a divisive rather than calming role, given the political opportunism demonstrated by Sunni religious leaders in the past, which makes their rhetoric and reactions difficult to predict. The Iraqi state's problems with Sunni religious leaders may not be over yet. The Iraqi Sunni experience concludes that the process of creating “moderate” religious leaders seems arduous and doomed to rapid failure, if it does not enjoy the correct political and social conditions, including within the religious leadership itself. 

[1]  Sarah Feuer, State Islam in the Battle against Extremism: Emerging Trends in Morocco and Tunisia, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2016. 

By this, the author of the study means religious gatherings and forums with a religious-jurisprudential dimension that engage with the political event, such as the “Association of Muslim Scholars” or the “Iraqi Jurisprudence Academy,” for example.

    Endowment Management Law No. 27 of 1929 [Author’s footnote]. This law was repealed by Endowment Management Law No. (107) of 1964 and was later subject to numerous amendments [Translated].


    The book The Iraqi Revolution in its Second Year (Baghdad: The Supreme Committee for Celebrating July 14, 1960), p. 367. Instructions for Service in Religious, Charitable, and Administrative Institutions for the Year 1976, The Iraqi Gazette, No. 2563, December 20, 1976, p. 18. 

    Law of the Great Imam College, Al-Waqa’i Al-Iraqiyya, Issue 1820, December 25, 1969. p. 296. Law of the Supreme Islamic Institute for the Preparation of Imams and Preachers No. (98) of 1985, Al-Waqa’i Al-Iraqiyya. Issue No. 3080, January 13, 1986. p. 10.

   On the Shia popular religious networks in Iraq, see Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi’is of Iraq, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

   The low level of religious education and participation among Iraqi Sunnis in the early twentieth century is documented by the memoirs of Adnan al-Dulaimi, who became the first head of Sunni endowments in post-Saddam Iraq. When he was describing his childhood in Anbar in the 1930s, he said that mosques had never been heard of in rural areas and that Friday prayers in major cities were attended only by the elderly. Adnan Muhammad Salman Al-Dulaimi, The Last End: Biography and Memories (Amman: Dar Al-Ma’moun, 2012), p. 16.

[1] For details on state support for mosque building and the activities of religious preachers, see Muhammad Sharif Ahmad, “Mu’assisat al-Awqaf fi al-‘Iraq,” Da’wat al-Haq 230 (July–August 1983), Moroccan.

[1] Amatzia Baram, Saddam Husayn and Islam (Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2014), 268–269.


[1]  Kanan Makiya, Cruelty, and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993), 101–102.


     Without Borders Program, Al Jazeera Channel, Harith Al-Dhari with Ahmed Mansour: The future of the Sunnis in Iraq and their presence under the American occupation. Aired on February 10, 2004. 

According to Dhari, “Our position on the resistance in Iraq is the position of every Muslim and every patriot... We do not urge people to join the resistance, but we support the resistance.” Without Borders Program, Al Jazeera Channel, February 10, 2004.

    Statement No. (14) on the issue of elections, Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, January 2004.


    Governing Council Resolution No. 29, Transitional Governing Council, August 30, 2003.



   Same source.


    Al-Dulaimi says in his memoirs that the decision to appoint him as head of the Sunni Endowments was handed over to him by the Secretary-General of the party, Mohsen Abdel Hamid, on November 22, 2003. See Al-Dulaimi, Akhir Al-Matafa, p. 159.

    Announcing the formation of a political bloc that includes all Sunni forces in Iraq, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, May 22, 2005.

   Iraqi Sunni scholars permit volunteer service in the army and police, Asharq Al-Awsat, April 2, 2005.

   New head of the Sunni Endowment in Iraq, Asharq Al-Awsat, July 28, 2005.

    The official spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq: America is playing the sectarian game, Asharq Al-Awsat, February 11, 2004.

    Sheikh Harith Al-Dari: I reject mediation while the Maliki government receives its orders from abroad, Al-Riyadh newspaper, November 19, 2006. 

Sunni Endowment Office Law No. (56) of 2012, Iraqi Gazette, No. 4254, October 15, 2012.


   Sunni Endowment Conference announces the establishment of the Iraqi Scholars Council, Riyadh, April 6, 2007.

Shiite Endowment Office Law No. 57 of 2012, Iraqi Gazette, No. 4254, October 15, 2012, p. 10.

   Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, “Corruption in Iraq: Your son is being tortured... He will die if you do not pay,” The Guardian, January 16, 2012.


    See the paper: Kirk Sowell, The Second Sunni Insurgency in Iraq, Hudson Institute, August 2014.

Mass demonstrations on “Baghdad Sabra” Friday, Al Jazeera, February 15, 2013.

   Mosques and mosques in the capital, Baghdad, will be closed the day after tomorrow, Friday, Al-Abbasiya News, March 13, 2013.

   “Revolutionary preachers” demand a “Sunni region” and the phrase “we govern ourselves by ourselves” unites them and divides six provinces, Ishtar Channel, March 5, 2013.

   Al-Sistani and Al-Saadi are symbols of investment in the national option against regionalism, Al-Mada newspaper, January 28, 2013.

   Al-Saadi calls for changing the constitution, holding fair elections, and rebuilding the army, Al-Masalla, March 10, 2013.

   Sheikh Abdul Malik Al-Saadi: I do not recognize the legitimacy of the upcoming elections... and I do not urge anyone to be elected, Asharq Al-Awsat, December 14, 2013.


   Abdul Malik Al-Saadi prohibits the regions in the current Iraqi situation and prohibits calling for them, Katabat website, January 24, 2013.

The Iraqi Jurisprudence Academy held its first conference on the system of regions, in May 2013.

   Mutahidun stresses the importance of the decisions of the Iraqi Fiqh Academy to approve the draft organization of the regions, Al-Ghad Press, July 4, 2013.

   Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, comment on the statement of the Iraqi Fiqh Academy regarding the regions, July 4, 2013.

   Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, Statement No. (4) regarding the proposal to hold dialogue in Al-Rawda Al-Askari, May 15, 2013.

   Withdrawing Al-Samarrai from his position as head of the Sunni Endowment and assigning Al-Sumaidaie, Al-Sumaria News, November 21, 2013.

   Ahmed Abdel Ghafour Al-Samarrai: Al-Maliki can no longer tolerate me as the head of the Sunni Endowment, Al-Abbasiya News, November 23, 2013.


   Statement by the Iraqi Jurisprudence Academy regarding the closure of mosques in Baghdad, Al-Harak, November 21, 2013.

The Iraqi Jurisprudence Council decided to suspend the closure of mosques with conditions, Iraqi Jurisprudence Council, November 23, 2013.

   Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, Statement No. (39), Abdul Malik Al-Saadi website, December 30, 2013.

   Statement No. (22) about targeting Anbar Governorate, Iraqi Jurisprudence Academy, December 30, 2013.


   Stalinist-style salami tactics, meaning the violent and non-violent methods and tactics used to dismantle the opposition forces “segment by segment” from within until they are completely neutralized and eliminated permanently, are somewhat similar to the British “divide and rule” policy. [The translator].

Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, “Statement No. 47,” June 22, 2014.

   The Fiqh Council, “A Reminder Message to Sunni Representatives,” June 20, 2014.

   Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, “Statement No. 73,” about the bombing of the endowment in Balad district, July 8, 2016.

   The typical example of the Fiqh Academy’s speech, Statement No. 42 regarding the Diyala massacres, January 28, 2015.

   The Jurisprudence Academy, “A Testimony of Right in Solidarity with the Christians of Iraq in general and Mosul in particular,” July 21, 2014.

   Director of the Sunni Endowment: ISIS killed 66 clerics in Mosul, Raise Your Voice, July 24, 2017.

   Abdul Latif Al-Humaim: From the call to write the Qur’an in Saddam’s blood and resist the occupation to the abyss of the political process, Al Arabiya News, March 25, 2016.

   The Fiqh Academy, Statement (48) regarding the appointment of the head of the Sunni Endowment Office, June 24, 2015.


   Al-Abadi to the Jurisprudence Academy: We will hold those responsible for the crime of attacking Adhamiya accountable, the Jurisprudence Academy, May 14, 2015. Also: Al-Abadi to the Jurisprudence Academy: Scholars have a major role in reforming society, the Jurisprudence Academy, January 2, 2015.

Abdul Latif Al-Humaim: Al-Maliki did not lift the seizure on my money, and senior sheiks nominated me to head the Sunni Endowment, Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, November 27, 2014.

   Parliamentary Endowments: 38 representatives from the Union of Forces agreed to appoint Al-Himim as head of the Sunni Endowment, Al-Ghad Press, June 29, 2015.

   MP Badr Al-Fahal on the “Red Line” program, Samarra TV, November 27, 2017.

   The Chief of the Bureau visits the Habbaniyah base and praises the courage of Anbar fighters, Sunni Endowment website, October 13, 2015.

   Al-Abadi forms a committee to reconstruct Ramadi after its liberation from ISIS, Asharq Al-Awsat, February 14, 2016.

   Anbaris accuses Al-Hayam of protecting ISIS leaders in Ramadi, Al-Mada newspaper, April 26, 2016.

   “Abdul Qahar Al-Samarrai: The Sunni Endowment contracted with satellite channels worth 4 billion dinars, and the Jurisprudence Academy did not approve of the Sharia law,” Al-Ghad Press, April 30, 2017.

   Court of Integrity: Al-Hameem was sentenced to one year in prison with a suspended sentence, Iraq News Network, April 16, 2017 [researcher’s footnote]. Although Al-Humaim was prosecuted and convicted of corruption, he continued to manage the Sunni Endowment until he was dismissed in August 2018, following widespread corruption in the Endowment Office [translator’s footnote].

   To all members of the Nineveh Endowments on the right side of Mosul, Sunni Endowment website, May 7, 2017.


   The Jurisprudence Academy, President of the Al-Azhar Community, Sheikh of Egyptian Reciters, and Head of the Sunni Endowment Office, hosted by the Iraqi Jurisprudence Academy, January 16, 2017.

   Iraqi Sunnis revive the demand for the region, Asharq Al-Awsat, October 2, 2017.

   Interview with Mahdi Al-Sumaidaie, Al-Sumaria TV, April 23, 2017.