RAMADI - Many Iraqis are angry that the government seems to be picking favorites
for the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muslims are obliged to carry out the pilgrimage, as long as they are able-bodied
and can afford to, at least once in their lifetime.
Saudi Arabia, where the holy site of Mecca is located, limits the number of
pilgrims to one in every 1,000 people of the total population of each Islamic
country. The quota for Iraq for the last four years was agreed at 28,000 pilgrims.
Iraqis who want to go on the pilgrimage say officials have issued approvals
only for relatives and party members. The Iraqi government led by US-appointed
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is Shi'ite dominated, and many Iraqis say selection
for the pilgrimage is sectarian.
"It is a shame that corruption now goes as far as the Hajj," Sheikh
Fadhil Mahmood of the Sunni religious group, the Association of Muslim Scholars,
told IPS in Ramadi, 110 km west of Baghdad.
"This is the fifth year that many Iraqis are deprived of their right to
go to Mecca, while those who are members of parties in power, and militiamen,
go every year. Most of our pilgrims are going for political and commercial purposes."
A member of the Hajj committee in al-Anbar province, which is largely Sunni,
spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity about guidelines for selecting pilgrims.
"There are two sets of regulations that we received for accepting candidates
one is what we tell people, and the other is what is under the table,"
he said. "The one under the table is mainly for members of the Islamic
Party, the Accordance Bloc and the so-called Awakening Forces (Sunni fighters
now on the US-payroll) who go to Saudi Arabia to make commercial deals and
to strengthen their political ties with the officials there."
Applicants for Hajj line up in long queues every day with heavy files containing
their personal documentation. They almost all queue in despair.
"This is the fourth time that I applied, but I do not think my name will
be enlisted," 55-year-old retired teacher Mahmood al-Rawi told IPS. "I
know many people who went to Mecca several times because they belong to a party
or have relatives in the government. Others got approval after paying 700 dollars
to committee members as a bribe."
The Hajj is from the 8th to the 12th day of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month of
the Islamic calendar. In the early 21st century, this date will come during
the November-January timeframe. This year, the week of Hajj begins Dec. 18.
Not just Sunni Muslims, many Shi'ites too speak of discrimination. "You
must be of Iranian origin," Abdul Hassan Jawad from Karbala City, 90 km
south of Baghdad, told IPS on telephone. "Hajj under occupation is limited
to followers of (Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali) al-Sistani with small shares
for the (Shi'ite) Fadhila Party and the (Shi'ite cleric Muqtada) al-Sadr movement."
"We believe that Saudi authorities must find new regulations for Iraqi
pilgrims away from any interference by this corrupted Iraqi government,"
Salman Tahir, human rights activist in the Hurriya quarter of western Baghdad
told IPS. "Both Sunni and Shi'ite officials are corrupt, and they are using
this holy season to increase their influence and money. We believe that application
for pilgrimage should be made directly to the Saudis in order to avoid this
Others blame the US-led occupation of Iraq for this too. "Politics under
occupation has corrupted everything," Ramadi resident Haydar Hussein told
IPS. "The corruption is the produce of the US occupation and its selection
of Iraqi staff. All this is adding up to more hatred amongst Iraqis."
(Inter Press Service)