The Iraqi region of Najaf is home to some of the holiest sites in Shia Islam–in particular, the Imam Ali shrine, a prime target for the Sunni terrorist members of the Islamic State (formerly Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham: ISIS). It is also home to a governor with roots in Michigan who is disappointed in America’s role in stabilizing Iraq.
In an exclusive interview with McClatchy, Najaf Governor Adnan al Zurufi–an Iraqi who lived for years in Chicago and Dearborn Heights, Michigan–expresses profound disappointment in the Obama administration’s response to the growing threat of the Islamic State. He notes that he has been working within Iraq–within Najaf specifically–long before becoming governor, and he has personally interrogated (“beaten,” as he described it) al Qaeda terrorists. “I’m the only one who came from the States and kept fighting and fighting and fighting,” he says, though that fight has also led to “Maybe 10? Twenty?” legal charges filed against him for abuse of power.
Zurufi fully expects that ISIS will attempt to attack his city because of its significance in Shia Islam, particularly the shrine. “They plan to attack the shrine and they’ve been thinking about it a long time,” he told the news outlet. “I’m focusing very deeply on their activities and working hard to prevent them from entering Najaf either with car bombs or by building networks here.”
While the United States has promised some resources to the fight against ISIS–most notably, armed drones that are flying in Baghdad–such help is not enough in Zurufi’s eyes, who has seen the ISIS threat develop in his years in Iraq. Calling the Obama administration’s response to the threat “bullshit,” he notes that the lack of U.S. presence was reluctantly pushing Shia Muslims in Iraq to accept the help of Iran. Iran itself has asked the United States to help and sent soldiers into Iraq. This was confirmed when an Iranian air force soldier was killed, believed to be fighting against ISIS on the ground in Iraq.
Zurufi points out that Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani had visited him, assistance he appreciated but of which he was cynical. Zurufi also notes that he believes the United States could swiftly end the current conflict if it had any will to do so: “All your kids were killed here, and you tell me you’re watching closely? Watching for what? It wouldn’t be hard for them to get everybody to stop all this. I know the power of the United States.”