ASSASSINATION SPARKS POLITICAL CRISIS IN TUNISIA
Tunisia’s political crisis deepened this week with the emergence of a split in the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party and the subsequent resignation of Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali on February 20. The split was the consequence of Jebali’s attempts to form a new government of technocrats in the wake of the February 6 assassination of Chokri Belaid, the 48-year-old secretary general of opposition party al-Watad (the Movement of Democratic Patriots – MDP).
The assassination and the announcement soon after that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali intended to form a new “apolitical government” of technocrats to replace the existing government created a rift within Ennahda, which had the most to lose from the proposal. Jebali is Ennahda’s secretary-general, but admits he did not consult the party before deciding on a new government: “The situation is difficult and urgent; there is a danger of violence. What can I consult about? I’m the head of the government. I could not wait” (Le Monde, February 11). Jebali, like Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, was set on fast-tracking the new constitution in order to begin the first round of elections in July. At the time of his resignation it is estimated that Jebali had the loyalty of less than 25 percent of Ennahda (Jeune Afrique, February 17).
Ghannouchi denounced the proposed new government as being a way to “circumvent the legitimacy” of the electoral “victory” won by Ennahda (Tunisian Press Agency, February 17). Ennahda took 89 of the 217 seats in Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly in the October, 2011 election. The Islamist party was far from forming a clear majority in the elections, but succeeded in forming a government as senior partner in a coalition with Mustapha ben Ja’afar’s Ettakatol party and President Moncef Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic. The three-party coalition is popularly known as “the troika.” Ettakatol supported the formation of a government of technocrats (Tunisian Press Agency, February 17). Ennahda’s insistence on holding all ministerial positions of importance is one of the most important factors behind Tunisia’s current political turmoil. The party is now seeking an Ennahda member to serve as a replacement for Jebali but has hinted it might be willing to open up senior ministries to members of other parties.
The current crisis was sparked by the death of Chokri Belaid, who was assassinated by two gunmen outside his home on the morning of February 6 (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, February 8). Belaid’s colleagues claim that the well-known critic of the ruling Islamist party was preparing to make public on February 15 various files he had built on the corruption of a number of top government officials (Jeune Afrique, February 17). Though no evidence has been provided to substantiate the allegations, Ennahda has been widely accused of orchestrating Belaid’s murder. Belaid’s family has been especially vocal in its accusations of Ghannouchi and Ennahda, and on February 11, Belaid’s widow joined thousands of demonstrators outside the National Assembly in calling for the resignation of the government (Jordan Times, February 13). Ghannouchi and other Ennadha leaders were told by Belaid’s family to stay away from the political leader’s funeral, as were representative of the other two parties in the coalition government.
Ennadha responded by organizing marches of their supporters on February 15 and 16 to support the “legitimacy” of the government and “express the unity of the movement” (Tunisian Press Agency, February 16). Speaking to a rally of Salafists and Ennahda members on February 16, various Islamist leaders denounced the formation of a government of technocrats, claiming it was a “conspiracy against the electoral legitimacy” of the government (Tunisian Press Agency, February 17).
Perhaps unconvincingly, Ghannouchi has attempted to portray Ennahda as the real victim in the Belaid assassination: “We believe that Belaid’s assassination is part of the conspiracy against the revolution and the coalition government led by Ennahda. We believe that these bullets were aimed at the Ennahda party, the revolution, and all those fighting for the revolution… There is a force that does not want any overlap between democracy and Islam, or modernity and Islam, but this will not affect us." (al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 13). In a recent interview with a German daily, Ghannouchi painted the murder as a “coup” designed to force Ennahda from power:
The key question is: ‘Who profits from this crime?’ We, the Ennahda party, are the biggest loser because we are responsible for Tunisia’s security. Why should we harm the security while we are governing? … This attack is an attempt to destroy the image of Ennahda, destabilize the government, and bring Tunisia to the brink of civil war. The attack is equivalent to a coup… The coup aimed to drive the elected Ennahda ministers from the cabinet. On the very day of the attack the prime minister suggested appointing a government of technocrats. He has been driven into a corner by Belaid’s murder (Sueddeutsche Zeitung [Munich], February 17).
As Islamists pilloried Belaid before his death as a “saboteur of the revolution” and “an agent of foreign powers,” the Watad leader was personally warned of plots on his life by Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, who has frequently warned of violence by Islamist extremists in Tunisia (see Terrorism Monitor, November 30, 2012). Belaid’s assassins were not interfered with by the Interior Ministry, which had been warned of the threats, or the secret service, which was similarly alerted and has responsibility for protecting opposition leaders as well as government leaders (Jeune Afrique, February 17). A memorial dedicated to Belaid was destroyed by unknown parties earlier this week (TunisiaLive, February 18).
Only days before his death, Belaid had pointed out that the regime had given its approval to political violence by calling for the release from prison of members of a pro-Ennahda militia (the League for the Protection of the Revolution) that were involved in the death of leading Nida Tounes party activist Lotfi Naqdh (Jeune Afrique, February 17). The same militia is perceived as a prime suspect by many Tunisians in the murder of Belaid (al-Jazeera, February 16).
Economic stagnation has helped provide a recruiting pool for extremists amongst Tunisia’s youth, who are typically well-educated but suffer from over 30% unemployment. Recruitment bonuses of as much as $27,000 for young men willing to perform jihad in Syria are very enticing compared to the absence of prospects at home (Jeune Afrique, February 13). A local report recently claimed that dozens of young Tunisians had been killed fighting for the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusrah and other insurgent groups when a Syrian government airstrike hit a concentration of Islamists near the Aleppo airport, killing 132 fighters (Shams FM [Tunis], February 13; al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 15).
WAVE OF BOMBINGS FOLLOWS AL-QAEDA CALL FOR ATTACKS ON IRAQ’S SHIITE MAJORITY
Following an appeal from an al-Qaeda front organization calling on Iraqi Sunnis to take up arms against the nation’s Shiite majority, a series of devastating car bombings and roadside explosions targeted the Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad on February 17, killing 26 people and wounding 119 others. Four more car-bombs were discovered and defused by Baghdadi police the next day (al-Bayan [Baghdad], February 18; al-Sabah, February 18).
The blasts came a day after the February 16 assassination of a senior army intelligence officer, Brigadier General Awuni Ali, and two of his aides by a suicide bomber in Mosul, one of ten such attacks so far this year (al-Sabah al-Jadid [Baghdad], February 17). Daily political violence is clearly on the increase again in Iraq; on the same day General Awuni Ali was killed, a police colonel was murdered at a checkpoint in Mosul, a police officer killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb in al-Anbar province and a judge killed by a “sticky bomb” in Kirkuk (AFP, February 16; al-Sabah al-Jadid [Baghdad], February 18). 246 people were killed in Iraq in January alone as the violence proliferates (AFP, February 1).
Since last December, thousands of Sunnis have participated in daily demonstrations in heavily Sunni western Iraq (particularly in al-Anbar province), complaining of sectarian-based discrimination and calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (al-Jazeera, February 2). The initial demonstrations were sparked by the December 20 arrest of at least nine guards of Finance Minister Rafa al-Issawi, a top Sunni leader.
Similar marches have been carried out by the Sunnis of Baghdad, Mosul and Samarra. Massive anti-government protests in Fallujah were further inflamed by the death in late January of seven young protesters in clashes with security forces (al-Jazeera, February 2). The deaths presented an immediate obstacle to attempts by the Maliki government to appease the growing hostility of the Sunni community. In recent weeks, the government claims to have released 900 prisoners, raised the salaries of Sunni militiamen fighting al-Qaeda and apologized for holding detainees without charge for long periods (AFP, February 1). Many of the Sunni detainees were arrested on the basis of information received from secret informers, a practice the prime minister has promised to stop. Massive unemployment, government corruption and a failure to provide basic services are all additional factors aggravating Sunni alienation from the post-Ba’athist state.
A statement of responsibility for the attacks was issued by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an al-Qaeda-led coalition of Sunni jihadists. The statement assured Iraqis that the attacks were carried out by muwahidin (monotheists), as opposed to the Shiite “polytheists,” as they are known to Sunni extremists. The statement tries to tie the ISI to the broader and generally peaceful Sunni anti-government demonstrations by claiming the bombings were carried out in response to Shiite efforts to “stop the spread of the protests, terrorize those participating in them and prevent [the protests] from reaching Baghdad and its Sunni belt.” 
The ISI’s appeal to Iraq’s Sunnis was issued under the name of Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the official spokesman of the Islamic State in Iraq.  Al-Adnani’s message was primarily dedicated to convincing former al-Qaeda fighters who had joined the anti-terrorist Sahwa (Awakening) militias to return to al-Qaeda without fear of retribution. To do this, al-Adnani presented “Seven Facts” regarding the sectarian and political situation in Iraq today:
1. Rebellion against the “Safavid” (Shiite) government is “the beginning of the end of your crises” and the means of retrieving dignity, rights and sovereignty. 
2. Sunni politicians are unable to achieve any of the Sunnis’ legitimate demands or protect their rights. They are incapable of even protecting themselves “if the Safavids turn against them.”
3. Sunni politicians have never been bothered by the desecration of Sunni holy places, the violation of Sunni women or the imprisonment of “hundreds of thousands of prisoners and detainees.” They are concerned only with preserving Iranian sovereignty over Iraq.
4. Iraq’s “Rafavid” (lit. “defectors [from Islam]”, i.e. Shi’a) leaders have nothing but hatred for the Sunni community. Al-Adnani singles out leading Shi’a politician Baqir Jabr al-Zubaydi as a particularly egregious example of these attitudes (al-Zubaydi has in the past described the Arab Spring as a Zionist-inspired movement and accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of financing terrorism in Iraq – see al-Bayyinah al-Jadidah [Baghdad], October 22, 2012). Even though “the idiot dog of Iran” (i.e. Prime Minister Malik al-Nuri) has “shown his teeth,” other Shiite politicians retain the image of sheep to trick Sunni politicians into forming alliances with them. Sunnis must especially beware “the lunatic Muqtada” (i.e. leading Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr), “who prayed with you and gave you sweet talk while his militias are now killing Sunnis in al-Sham (Syria).”
5. The Safavid government won’t hesitate to shed Sunni blood and has already begun to do so. Nuri al-Maliki has borrowed his belittling rhetoric from the Nusayriyah (Alawites, i.e. the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad). The Safavids don’t have a chance to rule Iraq, so they will “fight to the death” to maintain their temporary political superiority. In these circumstances, what has already been endured by Sunnis in Iraq and Syria will not be “one-tenth what they will receive from the Rafida of Iraq when they show their full reality.” At that point, Iraqi Sunnis will be faced with a choice; bow to the Rafida and be humiliated, or take up arms and seize the upper hand.
6. There is “no use” to having peace with the Rafavids, as the people of al-Shams (Syria) can testify.
7. Gaining dignity and freedom has never been accomplished without “a barrage of bullets and spilling blood.” Iraq’s Sunnis must choose between elections and Safavid-imposed humiliation or “arms, jihad and the tribute of pride and dignity.”
As al-Qaeda bombs continue to target Iraq’s Shiite majority, there is the danger that Shiite “self-defense” militias will return to the streets, reviving the bitter and bloody sectarian warfare that prevailed in Iraq in the mid-2000s. The recent announcement of the creation of a new Shiite militia called the Mukhtar Army “to help security forces” in the battle against extremism brought a government reminder that only state security forces are allowed to carry arms in the streets (Xinhua, February 10).
1. Ministry of Information / Islamic State of Iraq, “Statement about the attack of the Muwahidin in Baghdad in response to the recent crimes of the Safavid government,” ansar1.info, February 17, 2013.
2. Speech by Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, “Seven Facts,” Islamic State of Iraq, January 2013, released by al-Furqan Media, February 1, 2013.
3. “Safavid” is used here in a pejorative sense to refer to Iraqi Shiites while implying their subservience to Iran. The Persian Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736) controlled much of modern-day Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Caucasus region.