VIDEO - Baghdad, Iraq - Al-Qa’eda used Islam as a way of drawing a wide base in Arab and Muslim countries, while in Iraq other militias manipulated local Imams and Muslim clerics. Both saw controlling mosques as a tactic for providing secure gathering points as well as a steady supply of new recruits.
Many Imams chose not to go quietly along with Al-Qa’eda’s and the other militia’s plans, and they often suffered for it. Some were assassinated by Al-Qa’eda, who considered them non-believers or sometimes for being simply uncooperative. Others were killed in US raids on mosques suspected of harboring Al-Qaeda.
There was also another kind of conflict occurring, this one between Sunni and Shiite. Many Sunni mosques were located in heavily Shiite territories and vice versa. Many of these Imams were displaced, or worse, tortured and killed. Most were at the hands of religious extremists for the purpose of sectarian control. Some, however, were targeted out of sheer ignorance.
For instance, the Shiite have a type of mosque known as a “Husseiniya.” A Husseiniya differs from a mosque in that it is made mainly for gatherings for Muharram, the mourning of Hussein ibn Ali, and not necessarily for holding prayers in jumaa’at or regular Friday prayers. This slight difference in attendance was used by many militias as justification for killing those seen as “disobeying” those Friday prayers.
Car bombs, on the other hand, did not discriminate between Sunni or Shiite. Many mosques were closed or destroyed and the imams forced to relocate after spectacular, and deadly, car bomb attacks. For example, a car bomb in Khanaqin, a Sunni district, killed 70 people and injured more than 100, while in the Shiite region of Najaf, a similar attack left 95 dead and many hundreds wounded.
The mosques are thus left between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, it’s often too frightening for Iraqis to go to mosque under threat of car bombs and militia attacks, while on the other hand, Iraqis are used to meeting and gathering at mosques, an integral part of their culture. Because of the constant threat of Al-Qa’eda and militia attacks, Iraqis have sadly become accustomed to the sight of mosques brimming with armored vehicles and heavily armed gunmen there to protect the worshipers.
This week Alive in Baghdad brings you inside one of these mosques to hear what Iraqis have to say regarding the sectarian conflict, Al-Qa’eda attacks, and the struggles they go through daily just to worship.