The Shi’a of Iraq

by SAM HAMOD

The Shi’a of Iraq are a mixed bag at this time, caught between Najaf of Iraq and Qom of Iran. Imam Hakim, by far the most powerful Imam, who spent several years in exile in Iran, has spoken for an Iraqi government, with Islamic principles, but not asked for a theocracy. Imam Sistani, who was able to stay in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein and persist in being a true Shi’a leader, and a man who told his followers to cooperate with the American invasion, is a man on the bubble at this point. Imam Sadr, the son of martyr, Imam Sadr, is pushing for strength among the youth of Iraq in competition with Imam Sistani. There is also Imam Fartusi, an outspoken man who not only faced up to Saddam but also had the courage to face up to the American military as soon as they came into Iraq. These are the four major players among the Shi’a of Iraq, give or take a few others who do not have the clout of these four. All are devout Muslims, all want Islamic principles to be the foundation of the new Iraq, but each will have to work out how the country will develop as they go because they not only have to work with their Iraqi people, but must also contend, at least for a while, with the American/British occupation forces and the new dictators being foisted upon them by the Bush/Blair leadership in Washington and London.

The Shi’a of Iraq have been devout, but have not pushed for a theocracy such as exists in Iran. They also see their Islamic university of theology in Najaf as being superior to the Iranian Shi’a school in Qom (the late Imam Khomeni’s center of power).

The teachings in Najaf and Karbala are more liberal and have more philosophy in the curriculum than the schools in Iran; thus, the leading Iraqi imams have always tended to have a liberal outlook in the modern era post Khomeni. However, prior to Khomeni, the imams in Iran were more liberal and had a broader education and also had a sense of their Persian cultural background as well as that of their own brand of Islam.

At the present time, we cannot simply see the Shi’a of Iraq in a Muslim vacuum, but must also see it in the context of the American invasion and occupation.

Not one Shi’a leader now espouses working with the American/British occupation; all want Bush/Blair out of Iraq, PERIOD!

Are they willing to die to accomplish this? The answer is a clear and firm, Yes. Will they allow the Bush/Blair occupation to have any peace? No, not unless they are all killed–and this means 98% of the Iraqi people. Will they allow Bremer or the other American stooge, Chalabi to dictate to them? No. Will they recognize the new American judges and others to run the country? No. Will there be assassinations of American officials? Yes. Will an American be able to go out on the street unarmed or without heavy weaponry? No. Will Iraqis in other parts of the world join underground anti-American groups? Yes. Will they join

Al Qa’ida? Most likely not, but some will; but on the whole, they will act with other groups of Muslims in the world who are now more anti-American than any time in history. Will they have suicide bombers to resist Bush/Blair the way Palestinians have resisted Israel’s brutality? Not immediately, but if the Bush/Blair occupation persists and becomes more brutal, as it looks though it will, then this will also come into play. Do the Iraqis feel intimidated by the Bush/Blair troops? No, and they have lost respect for them and lose more each day as the thuggery, thefts, attacks from gangs gets worse and all law and order, medicine, food, water and sewage problem get worse. These are answers to important questions that one must ask of the situation.

Yes, law and order are breaking down even more, none of the sewage or water problems have been solved; yet, American firms are already working in the oil fields making money, talking about rebuilding roads and buidings–yet the people are without clean water, without clean food, without medicine and without security.

Obviously, they will not tolerate this much longer, as they see their children die of cholera and other dirty water diseases. Have they lost their respect for America as a democratic nation? Yes, and when they get the Ashcroft crew in, with Bremer and Rumsfeld as well, they will get fed up even faster and will respond in ways that will surprise the Bush/Blair troops and U.S. administration.

The Iraqis do not feel the West has that much to offer them; they have a strong belief in their own culture, and much of this is their firm belief in Islam. But, in their minds, they do not need Imams running the country, and would protest if any of the Imams tried to foist a Khomeni/Iran type of regime on them.

This does not mean that Imam Hakim and some others might not move in that direction, but once he sees the Iraq wind blowing against it, he will be an Iraqi type leader, not an Iranian type.

In fairness of Imam Hakim, he has learned from being in Iran, of the values and weaknesses of the Iranian system; this will help him, if he emerges as the top leader, of ways of operating that will be appropriate to Iraq and his people.

Imam Sistani still has a major following, but even he has moved to the right politically and to a degree religiously; but he is a man of character, as are all the men, and is willing to stand his ground and die if necessary rather than to be undone. He has great power in Najaf and Karbala, the two holiest cities of the Shi’a because he has been in charge of the tombs and the mosques in those areas.

Imam Sadr is younger, has his father’s cache, plus his own ethos that attracts many of the more militant young Iraqis who are knowledgeable about his fathers’ assassination by Saddam and who are worldly enough to understand America, Israel and the simmering situation in the Middle East. No matter what happens, each of the older Imams will try to get Imam Sadr to work with them to increase their base and appeal. His appeal is also strong in Najaf and Karbala, but he is also wooing other younger Iraqis in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere.

Imam Fartusi, has always had a following, and has great respect for his standing up, even to arrest by the Americans, and is also another wild card in this situation. Theologically, he is very strong, has a fiery style and can move crowds in directions he wishes, especially in Baghdad.

I have not discussed theology because their education in Najaf and Karbala was relatively the same, but the politics of the present situation and their reaction to it will differentiate them in time.

As far as theology is concerned, they are closer to the Lebanese style of Shi’a, which I covered in a previous essay on CounterPunch, than they are to the Qom, Iranian school of repressive domination under the doctrine of a reactionary type of formal, non-progressive Islam. As I said earlier, I do not see them trying to impose a Khomeni type rule, but even if one of them is foolish enough to try this, it will not succeed.

As far as the situation of the occupation is concerned, allow me to say this, the Bush/Blair have tried to work with Sistani, have a fear of Hakim, don’t quite know how to deal with Sadr and are worried about Fartusi. My thought is that though they are leaders who are in competition with one another, they will join forces when necessary to deal with the Bush/Blair occupation, in order to oust the Bush/Blair group. This will lead to bloodshed, and obviously, some of them will be killed. But, people in the West must understand, they do not fear death the way people do in the West–a heroic death on the side of what they consider to be right, God’s way, is preferable to domination by a non-Muslim outsider. To a man, they have had enough of occupation and servitude; to them, the game is now on and they would rather die resisting than live in any further captivity.

SAM HAMOD is an expert on world affairs, especially the Arab and Muslim worlds, former editor of THIRD WORLD NEWS (in Wash, DC), a former professor at Princeton University, former Director of The National Islamic Center of Washington, DC, an advisor to the US State Department and author of ISLAM IN THE WORLD TODAY. He is the editor of www.todaysalternativenews.com, and may be reached at shamod@cox.net

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