January 26, 2005


A New Iraq: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds all have a stake in liberty. (FOUAD AJAMI, January 26, 2005, Wall Street Journal)

Behold these elections: they are not a prelude to civil war, as some of our sages continually warn. They are the substitute for a civil war. Indeed, the remarkable thing about the Shiites has been their restraint in the face of the terror that the remnants of the old regime and the jihadists have thrown at them. It is their leaders and their mosques and their weddings and their religious gatherings that have been the steady targets of the terror. It is their faith that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his band of killers continue to dismiss as a heresy at odds with Islam's "purity." Men are not angels. The Shiite restraint has rested on the hope that redemption shall come at the ballot box.

We needn't be afraid of a Shiite electoral victory. The scarecrow that stayed America's hand in the first Gulf War ought to be seen for what it is. There is no "sister republic" of the Iranian theocracy in Iraq's future. The religious scholars in Najaf know that theirs is a country that differs from Iran; it is a checkered country of multiple communities. The Shiite secularists know this as well. Besides, the Iranian state next door offers no panacea today, only terrible economic and cultural sterility. It has been Iraq's luck that Ayatollah Sistani was there when most needed. A jurist of deeply quietist bent who embodies Shiism's historical aversion to political redemptionism, he has reined in the passions of his community. He has held out the hope that history could be changed without large-scale violence, and without millenarianism. Grant the old man his due.

Admonitions have come America's way-- made by the Sunni order of power in neighboring Arab lands--of the dangers of Shiite emancipation. It was in that vein that Jordan's monarch, Abdullah II, warned of a "Shia crescent" that would extend from Iran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Our leaders tell us that similar fears are put to them by other Arab rulers. The power of the Arabist worldview lingers in the State Department and in the ranks of the CIA, which retain a basic sympathy for the Sunni order. It is odd, to say the least, that we would fall for this trap. The terrors of Sept. 11, 2001, were not Shiite. Saudis and Egyptians brought soot and ruin to America; and it is a Jordanian from the town of Zarqa--with Zarqawi as his nom de guerre--who is sowing death in the streets of Iraq.

Young American soldiers are not dying in Iraq to uphold the sectarian phobias and privileges of the Arab elites. For if this campaign in Mesopotamia has a broader moral claim, it is to rid the Arabs of the atavisms that have poisoned their life. We can't underwrite Sunni dominion anymore than we can support Shiite radicalism. A Shiite bid to dominate Iraq is sure to be broken, turned back by the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds. Nor can we accept at face value the assumption that the Shiites of Iraq are a monolithic force. There are deep wells of anticlericalism among them. If the past is any guide, competing Shiite factions will cast about for alliances across the sectarian lines, among the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds.

That belt of democratic Shi'a states will put enormous pressure on Sunni autocrats to similarly liberalize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 26, 2005 11:11 AM

Not to mention their becoming our allies in defeating the euro-tranzi axis.

Posted by: LUCIFEROUS at January 26, 2005 1:03 PM