April 11, 2004


Moderate Shiites gaining new clout: Growing strategic and political influence of Iraq's Shiite clerics concerns the US. (Dan Murphy, 4/12/04, CS Monitor)

The city of Karbala observed the holiday of Arbain this weekend. It marks the end of a 40-day period of mourning for the martyrdom of Imam Hussein 1,350 years ago, in the power struggle that created Islam's Sunni-Shiite divide.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims celebrated by marching on foot to the city, praying at Hussein's tomb, ritually whipping themselves, and recreating the story of his defeat and death.

But most telling in Karbala this weekend was who was not in charge: the militia of radical cleric Moqatad al-Sadr. Instead, two moderate, cooperating Shiite militias set up layered cordons throughout the city.

While their taking control in Karbala represents a small victory over Sadr, it also serves to underscore the growing political and strategic influence of Iraq's Shiite clerics, a group whose influence US strategists had hoped to limit. [...]

AFTER a week of fighting between followers of Sadr militants, on the one side, and Bulgarian and Polish troops on the other, milder Shiite militias pushed Sadr's militia either out of the city or deeply underground. The vacuum has been filled by the Badr Brigades, controlled by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; and militia close to Iraq's establishment Shiite hierarchy who sometimes call themselves the Helpers of Sistani, after Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a moderate and Iraq's most widely respected cleric.

US soldiers have no presence in the town whatsoever. At the main security office in the shrine of Hussein, an official warns foreigners that they shouldn't have come to the town. "It's lawless out there."

Unlike Sadr's men, these militias aren't likely to make a grab for power by force. But their sponsors do have political demands - and are increasingly weary of the US occupation. Grand Ayatollah Sistani has repeatedly complained that Iraq should have elections much sooner than the current US timetable, scheduled for January 2005. Leaders of SCIRI also say they would like big changes in the US transition plan. They say they worry that Iraq's Shiites won't be granted sufficient influence in the transitional government.

For domestic political reasons we couldn't take Iraq and immediately hand it to clerics, but this is the best outcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2004 6:55 PM

I still think you're putting a lot of trust in people who may not really merit it, Orrin, but as you will.

Posted by: Joe at April 12, 2004 5:20 AM


We canm always go back and kill them. But if we have to it is better that they be in control of a state than under our occupation.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2004 8:11 AM

Not the best, but acceptable. It will be their civil war if they insist on having it.


Posted by: at April 13, 2004 12:54 PM