February 12, 2005


Fighting for Islamic Law (Harold Meyerson, February 9, 2005, Washington Post)

Suppose, as a result of George W. Bush's decision to go to war there, that Iraq turns into Iran? Just what do we do then?

As the vote-counting continues in last month's Iraqi elections, it's clear that the predictable has in fact occurred: The electoral alliance put together and dominated by Iraq's Shiite clerics has swept to power. It will command a clear majority in the National Assembly, with the Kurds, Sunnis and various secular groups bringing up the rear. It will write the national constitution, although, according to the soon-to-be-replaced transitional authority of Ayad Allawi, the new document needs a Kurdish and Sunni buy-in to go into effect. [...]

The new Iraq, in short, may look a good deal like Iran-lite -- a state where Shiite clerics exercise indirect control, and that poses less of a threat to the wider world than the regime of the Iranian theocrats. But, Cheney's assurances notwithstanding, how can we be certain that the Shiite clerics of Iraq and Iran won't begin to find common cause on a range of issues?

Indeed, it's not hard to foresee a time a year from now, when U.S. Special Forces are in harm's way in underground operations attacking the mullahs' regime in Iran while U.S. soldiers and Marines are in harm's way defending a government of increasingly Iran-style mullahs in Iraq.

Our intervention in Iraq is already the War of the Vanishing Raisons D'Etre -- a war to save the world from a madman's arsenal, which, when the arsenal turned out not to exist, turned into a war to instill democracy in the Arab Middle East, and could now morph into a war to cement Koranic law. An unintended consequence of Bush's rush to war, certainly, but not at all an unpredictable one. And a most peculiar cause to ask American men and women to die for.

The Left hates religion more than it loves liberty.

The most powerful man in Iraq is an ayatollah with a website (Stephen Farrell and Richard Beeston, 2/12/05, Times of London)

THE most powerful man in Iraq sits on the floor of a modest room, off a narrow alley in a provincial city south of Baghdad. His gown is dark and threadbare. His face is sandwiched betweeen a long white beard and a black turban. On the rare occasions that he leaves his home, it is to pray at the nearby shrine of Imam Ali, the founder of Shia Islam, in Najaf.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani has never met an American official or soldier. He did not vote in Iraq’s elections last month. And yet this religious recluse could wield more influence over Iraq’s destiny than all the foreign troops and Iraqi politicians put together.

The Shia List, which he endorsed, looks certain to be the biggest group in Iraq’s new 275-strong assembly when the election results are announced any day now. It will therefore be the dominant voice in the formation of a new government and the drafting of a new constitution. That means the 74-year-old cleric is likely to play a key role in determining whether Iraq becomes an Islamic state or a secular democracy and whether its rival communities peacefully co-exist or sink into sectarian conflict.

Anyone doubting Ayatollah al-Sistani’s influence should consider the key events of the past year. The huge Shia turnout in January’s election was the result of his simple fatwa instructing the faithful that voting was a religious duty.

That the elections were held at all was largely due to him. When the US-led coalition proposed a transfer of power without letting the people cast their ballots, a single edict from Ayatollah al-Sistani brought hundreds of thousands of Shia protesters on to the streets until the Americans backed down.

Now that the Shias are set to govern Iraq for the first time in more than 500 years the country and the rest of the world want to know what kind of nation he wants to build.

The Shiite Obligation: Iraqi's majority group must rise above the politics of victimhood. (KANAN MAKIYA, February 7, 2005, Wall Street Journal)
The terrible lesson of Palestinian politics is that a leadership that elevates victimhood into the be-all and end-all of politics brings untold suffering and misery upon its own people. Given political power, this kind of a leadership will in turn victimize. This is an iron law of social and political psychology confirmed by any number of recent historical experiences. The insurgents in Iraq fully understand this dynamic; in fact they are counting on it. That is why their goal is not to win over Iraqi hearts and minds; it is rather to inculcate a state of pervasive physical insecurity, conducive to the eruption of the most irrational forms of behavior. Theirs is a politics of fear and intimidation borrowed from that of the former regime which produced them, and it is a politics designed to create a backlash among those very Iraqis who so rightfully today wear the blue-black stain on their right index finger as a badge of honor.

Foremost among those victims are the Shiites of Iraq, of whom I am one. Shiite parties and 111 coalitions are poised on the verge of a great electoral victory. But who is this mass of people, politically speaking? What do they stand for? What kind of a state do they want?

Since 1968, the Baath have been trashing the only idea that can hold the great social diversity of Iraq together: the idea of Iraq. Their answer to the question "Who am I?" was: You are either one of us, or you are dead.

True to their word, they killed anyone who dared to say he was a Kurd or a Shiite or a leftist, or a democrat and a liberal. Contrary to what many Iraqi Shiites tend to think nowadays, the Baath never wanted to build a Sunni confessional state in Iraq. Anti-Shiite sectarianism was introduced on a large scale after the uprising of 1991. The state that the Baath built in Iraq up until the 1991 Gulf War was worse than sectarian. It thrived on the distrust, suspicion and fear that it went about inculcating in everyone. In this sense it was consistently egalitarian. Atomizing society by breeding hate and a thirst for revenge was the regime's highest ambition and principal tool of social control. Every Iraqi--Kurd or Arab, Muslim or Christian, Shiite or Sunni--became both complicit in the Baathist enterprise and its victim at the same time.

When the Shiites become the majority in a duly elected Iraqi National Assembly, they will inherit the great burden of a fractured and deeply atomized country filled with minorities, all of whom have known suffering of one sort or another. How will they shoulder that responsibility?

A fateful moment of truth came in March last year, during the debate over the interim basic constitution. A conflict erupted not over the authority of the interim government or its shape, but rather over the very distant and abstract notion of how the permanent constitution should be ratified. At issue was the all-important question of minority rights and federalism. Specifically, the most contentious item of the draft was Article 61(c), which held that no future permanent constitution could be ratified if two-thirds of voters in any three governorates rejected it.

Article 61(c) embodied a principle previously widely accepted by the democratic Iraqi opposition in exile; namely, that an Iraqi democracy had to be principally about minority rights, and only afterwards about majority rule. In other words, the rule of law took precedence over public opinion and populist sentiment. After intensive discussion, the Iraqi Governing Council succeeded in reaching a consensus, and the crisis was overcome. Nevertheless, the incident showed that the idea of Iraq as a pluralist and accommodating whole was at odds with the Shiite sense of political entitlement arising from their own previous suffering.

The most fundamental truth of post-Saddam politics in Iraq is that only the Shiites are in a position to stop the legacy of dictatorship from snatching victory out of the jaws of its own demise in the shape of escalating confessional and ethnic violence in the years to come. I said that in 1993, but the point is a thousand times more relevant today.

By virtue of their numbers, the Shiites in the first place carry the greatest responsibility for that future, greater than that of any other ethnic or sectarian group in Iraq. They also have far more to lose than anyone else, and this too is a lesson the insurgents have understood well. To be sure, there are hopeful signs, among them Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's call for Shiite restraint in the face of terrorist violence. Yet the Grand Ayatollah is not a politician, and he has yet to find his moral equivalent among the politicians. The fact that Iraqis are still competing with each other over who has suffered the most, and who did or did not collaborate with Saddam, is a sign that whether or not Saddam is in jail, what he represented still lives on inside Iraqi hearts. Herein lies the greatest danger of all for Iraq's future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2005 6:24 AM

It becomes real easy these days to decide if an author is worth reading or not. Just skim for the words "Bush rush to war" or "...disaster that is Iraq..." If present, you can safely put it in the discard pile, unread.

Posted by: ray at February 12, 2005 12:13 PM