As al-Qaeda in Iraq’s fortunes wane, it has no one but itself to blame. President Bush’s troop surge indisputably has crushed AQI and other terrorists, while Iraqi soldiers have honed their ability to hammer deadly insurgents. But much of AQI’s damage has been self-inflicted. Largely overlooked is the Islamo-puritanism that it inflicted on the Iraqi territories it seized. Rank-and-file Iraqis tasted life under bin Laden–style Islam, and they gagged. They responded by collaborating with American and Coalition forces to expel these mad zealots from their midst.
At one level, AQI’s religious decrees have been nearly comical: As the Institute for War & Peace Reporting’s Sahar Hussein al-Haideri revealed before she herself was murdered in June 2007, terrorists targeting what they considered pagan symbols bombed a statue of several women hauling jars on their shoulders.
“Do these statues work with police? Were they translators for the Americans or members of the dissolved Ba’ath party?” Mosul police spokesman Brigadier-General Saeed Ahmed al-Juburi asked IWPR. “Those terrorists are a bunch of idiots.”AQI’s agenda for Mosul included a decree that clothiers cover the heads of their in-store mannequins. Some gave in, and shrouded their mannequins with plastic bags.
“I don’t know where these groups came from,” shop owner Mutaz Ahmed told IWPR. “They want to take us back 1,400 years. But if you want to stay alive, you have to obey their orders.”
Extremists banned soap in public baths because the Prophet Mohammed lacked it back in the 600s.
AQI took particular interest in clamping down on various food items.
“Sammoun,” a type of bread popular in Mosul, also was prohibited, since Mohammed never ate it.
Islamo-puritans found the sight of cucumbers and tomatoes side by side sexually charged, so they ordered produce stands to keep them apart, and told restaurateurs like Khalaf Khalid to serve them on separate plates.
“We obey them because they threatened to blow up the restaurant and kill us if we didn’t,” Khalid said, back when AQI was in command.
AQI also took a “Just Say No” attitude toward ice. Mohammed didn’t have it, so Mosul’s residents couldn’t, either.
“They prevented production and sale of ice in Mosul from last year,” Khalaf Abed Al-Hadidi, an ice manufacturer, told Agence France Presse. “Last summer was tough for us, but we couldn’t use the ice factory.’
As part of a general crackdown on public displays of joy, AQI even banned wedding parties in Mosul.
As State Department public diplomacy chief James Glassman recently observed at Manhattan’s Council on Foreign Relations, “What began to turn the tide in Iraq was when Iraqis began to realize that this was a murderous ideology that was killing Muslims and justifying it by saying, ‘If I think you’re not a good Muslim, it’s OK for me to kill you.’”