Al-Qaeda vs. the Iraqi Constitution

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 16

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been active in a campaign to warn off Iraqis from voting on the constitution. The jihadi forums have carried the latest visual offerings from the Media Division of [Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s] Organization of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers.

The most striking images are a ‘no entry’ sign and a crosshairs aimed at an election center, with the inscription, “Brother Muslim, be aware that the infidel election centers are a legitimate target for mujahideen operations; keep safe and stay away from them.” Another image is that of an opened Qur’an with the rubric “Our Constitution: for us there is no alternative to it. Who will protect us from the wrath of God if we choose the infidel constitution in place of the praiseworthy Law of God?” A third effective image is the view of a desolate road marked with the words “the Constitution; Democracy, Elections, Infidelity” leading inexorably to a destination marked with a Christian cross under the blood red sky of the U.S. Stars and Stripes.

The al-Farouq jihadi forum, which specializes in discussions on Iraq, takes up the challenge further. A posting on August 18 from ‘A New Mujahid’ underlined that the mujahideen in Iraq “are not fighting to expel America just to leave Iraq to set up what ever type of state it likes” but to ensure an Islamic state. He proposes that the armchair mujahideen make use of their talents in order to prevent the establishment of a constitution. This is to be done by maximizing traffic on the constitution issue — posting fatwas and monographs denouncing the concept, audio tapes of scholars, opening daily discussion strings and initiating opinion polls “even though the result is known beforehand,” designing banners and signature calling-cards for distribution over other forums and importing discussions on the issue from other forums. “The Islamic forums will have an important role and an influential voice, if the number of opponents [to the constitution] is sufficient” [].

However, an illustration of just how dangerous a threat the constitutional issue is perceived to be for the mujahideen comes from the French language al-Mourabitoun jihadi forum []. The discussion, accompanying the above Media Division images, takes the form of an impromptu debate on the constitutional issue. Interestingly, it includes a discussion on an Islamic state that might nonetheless be achieved even if the despised constitution passes.

“Before taking up a position on [the constitution]” one participant advises, “one should perhaps wait for its final text and the reaction of the United States. The constitution may in fact call for the base of all law being the Qur’an … this can only serve Islam and the Muslims.” But the member also asks whether the mujahideen “will carry on killing everyone all the same [including] those who ensured that the constitution be based on the Shari’ah? If so, this would indicate that they are not guided by a deep understanding of the situation.” The participant’s pragmatic argument is that even federalism could benefit the mujahideen, since that could become a state where Shari’ah is applied. “Maybe [here] the United States will be helping us without realizing it” he concludes, noting that it is within God’s power “to make use of the infidel for the benefit of Islam and spread Islam through contrasting means.”

Against the dismissal of his comments by subsequent participants, the pragmatist writer adduces the all-important precedent: “Several different methods [of rule] have been adopted by the Prophet and his Companions,” arguing that in many cases the successor Caliphs disputed among themselves. “One can utilize the election technique by giving Islamic conditions for the candidates,” he maintains, “and yet at the same time remain against the ensemble of the democratic model.” It is all a matter of vetting, “to verify if the voters and candidates are sincere believers in order for them to have the right to vote… There is no infidelity in that if it is the best way to achieve an Islamic government.”

Opponents of this position focused on the misplaced liberalism of his argument: “How is it that the Shi’ites would be a benefit for Muslims?” The innate contradiction of a man-made constitution with the Shari’ah, and the track record of Arab states, “where according to the constitution the reigning law is Islam, but the articles which follow contradict these first articles.” The proponent of the pragmatic argument fails for a simple reason: “God’s law, in your view, is compatible with democracy. But do you have a fatwa or any hadiths or scholars to support you? … If a constitution is not the Book of God and the Sunnah of his Prophet, then it is a constitution of a Taghout [anti-Islamic tyrant].” But the pragmatist himself perhaps best underlined the nub of the argument, in that “there is no Islamic archetype for the selection of a head of the [Muslim] Nation.”