As al Qaeda in Iraq’s fortunes wane, it has no one but itself to blame. President Bush’s troop surge indisputably has crushed al-Qaeda and other terrorists, while Iraqi soldiers have honed their ability to hammer deadly insurgents.
But much of al Qaeda’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, al Qaeda’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 Sa’eed Ahmed al-Juburi asked the Institute. "Those terrorists are a bunch of idiots."
Al Qaeda’s agenda for Mosul included a decree that clothiers cover the heads of their in-store mannequins. Some relented, and shrouded their mannequins with plastic bags.
"I don’t know where these groups came from," shop owner Mutaz Ahmed told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "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.
Al Qaeda 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 al Qaeda was in command.
Al Qaeda also took a "Just Say No" attitude toward ice. Mohammed didn’t have it, so Mosul’s residents could not, 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, al Qaeda even banned wedding parties in Mosul.
As James Glassman, the State Department’s chief of public diplomacy, 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.’"
"They threatened to kill me if I used an electric shaving machine," barber Atta Sadoun told Agence France Presse. He added that al Qaeda forbade the removal of men’s facial hair and forced him to install a sign saying he used scissors but no electric shaver. He said several colleagues who refused were killed. Al Qaeda also bombed women’s beauty parlors.
According to restaurateur Hashim Abdullah Al-Hamdani, al Qaeda murdered two of his employees and injured his son. Why? His establishment served both male and female students from local colleges.
Episodes like these eventually led exasperated Iraqis, including Sunni imams, to work with American and Coalition forces to boot al Qaeda from Iraq. This has helped Iraq enjoy its current relative peace.
These bizarre, frightful incidents illustrate the bottomless depravity of America’s chief enemy in Iraq. This is a glimpse of how Iraq could look if U.S. forces prematurely withdrew, and the bad guys returned. This also is a cautionary tale of the insanity that likely would erupt wherever al Qaeda or any of its allies gained power.
Finally, al Qaeda’s chilling tenure in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq puts the lie to the notion that Islamofascists merely are defending themselves against America’s allegedly over-assertive foreign policy and Israel’s supposed anti-Muslim menace. Combating ice, cucumbers, and wedding gowns has nothing to do with the policies of the Pentagon or the Knesset. It’s all about building a bridge to the 7th Century.
(Deroy Murdock is a columnist and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)gmail.com)