July 15, 2003


The importance of the Iraqi Shi'a to US plans to form an Iraqi government (Rodger Shanahan, July 14, 2003, Online Opinion)
There are generally considered to be three Shi'a scholars whose views are the most influential within the broader Shi'a community: Grand Ayatollahs Khamenei, Fadlallah and Sistani.

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah 'Ali Khamenei was the designated successor to Ayatollah Khumayni. Whilst Khamenei's scholarly credentials are not that of either Fadlallah or Sistani, his official position, control of the Iranian security forces and the allegiance shown to him by Lebanon's Hizbullah mark him as a figure of enormous importance to the future of Iraq. Given the history of Iraqi-Iranian relations, Khamenei was obviously opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein, but has been equally opposed to American intervention to overthrow him, fearing the long-term consequences of a pro-US government as his neighbour. Many of his public sermons, as well as those of other influential ayatollahs within the Iranian government, have sought to portray United States actions with respect to Iraq as part of a wider US-Israeli conspiracy.

Another cleric who may influence communal attitudes to any occupying forces is Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. He is an extremely influential scholar within Lebanon, and has a wide following amongst Shi'a outside the country. Some claim that he is particularly influential amongst Iraqi members of the Islamic Call Party (Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiyyah), a product of late 1950s Najafi activism and which advocates Islamic, as distinct from clerical, rule. Although based in Lebanon for nearly 40 years, Fadlallah's links with Iraq are significant. He was born in Najaf to Lebanese parents, and lived there until he was 31 years of age before moving to Lebanon. His attitude to both the Ba'thist regime and the coalition forces was declared publicly during Friday prayers on March 28 this year in Beirut. During his sermon, he denounced the coalition attack, saying that "…Shi'ites have always been against the oppression of internal dictators and the slavery of external occupiers..(the Iraqi Shi'a) should all take the same stand and be unified against occupation, for this..determines our destiny."

The last of the influential clerics, and the only one living within Iraq, is the highly regarded Grand Ayatollah 'Ali Sistani, who possesses impeccable scholarly credentials. He is not an advocate of clerical activism, preferring the traditional quietist approach to politics.

During the invasion, he issued a direction to his followers directing them not to interfere with the US-led invasion troops. This followed an earlier claim that Ayatollah Sistani had directed his supporters to stand together against any invasion. Whilst hailed as a significant victory for the United States in the hearts and minds campaign, the words used by Ayatollah Sistani should be carefully examined. If true, his call indicates that Sistani has chosen a form of neutrality for the Shi'a in the best interests for the survival of his community. Sistani did not provide any endorsement for the invasion despite the treatment accorded him by Saddam Hussein's regime during the past two decades. Ayatollah Sistani has so far refused to meet the American administration, and his subsequent pronouncements will be crucial in determining the attitude of a large part of the Shi'a community towards the occupying power. [...]

With President Bush having declared the end to major combat operations in Iraq, the attitude of the majority Shi'a to any extended period of military governance by the United States will determine to a large degree the success of the post-conflict operation. The Shi'a 'ulama are split between three methods of governance for the Shi'a: clerical rule in accordance with Khumayni's concept of wilayat al-faqih, a less public but more advisory role as advocated by the Islamic Da'wa Party, or a politically quiescent approach as advocated by Grand Ayatollah Sistani. One thing they are largely united on, however, is a rejection of the United States as a long-term occupation force. Although happy at the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime, leading Shi'a clerics both inside and outside Iraq are less well disposed to a post-conflict political role for the United States or its Iraqi exile allies. The United States should be prepared for resistance to their presence from many of the Iraqi Shi'a clerics, particularly the longer their forces remain in the country.

Capture the bigger Ba'athists, get basic services running, find or plant some WMD and home in time for Thanksgiving. Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2003 9:58 PM
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