January 24, 2005


Shiites in Iraq Say Government Will Be Secular (DEXTER FILKINS, 1/24/05, NY times)

With the Shiites on the brink of capturing power here for the first time, their political leaders say they have decided to put a secular face on the new Iraqi government they plan to form, relegating Islam to a supporting role.

The senior leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of mostly Shiite groups that is poised to capture the most votes in the election next Sunday, have agreed that the Iraqi whom they nominate to be the country's next prime minister would be a lay person, not an Islamic cleric. [...]

The decision appears to formalize the growing dominance of secular leaders among the Shiite political leadership, and it also reflects an inclination by the country's powerful religious hierarchy to stay out of the day-to-day governing of the country. Among the Shiite coalition's 228 candidates for the national assembly, fewer than a half dozen are clerics, according to the group's leaders. [...]

The emerging policies appear to be a rejection of an Iranian-style theocracy. Iran has given both moral and material support to the country's two largest Shiite parties, Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The conviction that the Iranian model should be avoided in Iraq is apparently shared by the Iranians themselves. One Iraqi Shiite leader, who recently traveled to Tehran, the Iranian capital, said he was warned by the Iranians themselves against putting clerics in the government.

"They said it caused too many problems," the Iraqi said.

Despite the oft-heard worries, Iraq will ultimately have a greater influence on Iran than vice versa.

What a Shi'ite victory could mean (Charles Recknagel, 1/25/05, Asia Times)

Ammar al-Shahbander of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting has spent the past 16 months in Iraq and is now in London. He said a Shi'ite win in the elections will mostly be a "sentimental" victory for the community and would not necessarily lead to Shi'ite political dominance.

"Everybody is speaking of a Shi'ite parliament, of a Shi'ite majority, or a Shi'ite victory [because] this issue has a sentimental value, because it's the first time the Shi'ites have a real chance to participate in the politics of Iraq. It is going to mean that this parliament will have the highest percentage of Shi'ites as individuals. It doesn't mean that the Shi'ite will be there as one block and will form a political majority," al-Shahbander said.

Al-Shahbander predicts that after the Shi'ites win a majority of seats in the assembly, the victory will be followed by new rounds of coalition building that could help redress imbalances from low Sunni participation in the election. The activity could see Shi'ite secular and religious parties that have come together for the poll breaking ranks to forge new intercommunity coalitions of their own.

"The current coalitions and the current blocks, people who are joining together to enter the election - that's only temporary, it's only for the election. As soon as the election is over, we will witness the abolition of these blocks and the establishment of new blocks, and I am sure these new blocks will surprise everyone," al-Shahbander said.

Mahmud Uthman, an independent Kurdish politician and member of the former Iraqi Governing Council, also sees new rounds of coalition building as highly likely after the election. He said the fact that many candidate lists for the election are a mix of Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish candidates favors a future politics of shifting alliances that will supersede single community interests.

"There will be different sorts of people in the assembly, and things would come up in a coalition [process]. I think a coalition will win, not Shi'ites alone. The Shi'ites alone, maybe they make up the majority of Iraqi people, but they are on different lists. You see Shi'ites in all the lists. You see Sunnis in all the lists. You see Christians in almost all the lists. That's why the danger of a Shi'ite win, as some people will put it, I don't think it poses that much of a danger, as such. But the danger is that some people will participate in the election, others are against it, and the violence will continue after the election," Uthman said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 24, 2005 9:00 AM

Iran is not nearly as monolithic as the Ayatollahs and those who love them in the MSM and the State Department would have us believe.

There are vast ethnic and religious differences. It is difficult to imagine Azeris and Shia Arabs observing democracy's march in Iraq and the Caucasus remaining quiet in the face of ethnic Farsi exploitation. It is also difficult to see how much longer the Iranian middle class will accept being the losers in the global tech game.

The ayatollahs remain in power thru military force alone and that is unsustainable long-term. The unifying ideology of the state is not accepted by most Iranians, certainly not in the way that most Norks buy into Juche.

An Iraqi election where a Shia is installed as head of government and who sees no need to oppress non-Shias, while at the same time is completely acceptable to high-ranking and internationally-respected Shia clerics will have instant impact in Iran.

The rule of the Ayatollahs is foreign to Iranian and especially Persian history. As such it must inevitably fall.

Posted by: Bart at January 24, 2005 6:29 AM