Thursday, December 13, 2007

Newsflash From Iraq: Not All Shiites Are Theocrats.

The Associated Press publishes a story today about Iraqi militia leader Moktada Al-Sadr going back to theology school.
"Al-Sadr currently has the relatively low title of hojat al-Islam, which leaves his supporters no choice but to seek religious guidance from top establishment clerics — many of whom al-Sadr sees as out of touch with common Iraqis and accuses of acquiescing to Washington's demands." (Here.)
The AP story only hints at the low regard in which Al-Sadr is held by most Iraqi Shiites. That Al-Sadr is viewed that way by most Iraqis is probably news to most Westerners. But anyone who has taken the time to find blogs written by Iraqis about their own country would have learned long ago that Al-Sadr does not enjoy much respect among most Iraqi Shiites. Here's an excerpt from a post on the blog IraqPundit from May 7, 2006.
"The other Moktada, the one known mostly to Shiite Iraqis, is a half-wit and a loser. He is certainly not a cleric, since he found his religious studies overwhelming, and abandoned them. On the other hand, he is almost certainly a cold-blooded murderer. His viciousness is matched only by his ignorance and his mumbling incoherence. His significance may be measured entirely by a following of thugs who are as vicious and stupid as he is. He is an impediment to the emergence of a decent and stable Iraq." (Here.)
The AP story also briefly touches on the Shiite doctrine of "wilayet al faqeeh," which is described in the story as a doctrine "which supports the right of clerical rule. The concept was adopted [by] Iran's Khomeini, but carries little support among Iraq's Shiite religious hierarchy." What the story doesn't say is that the doctrine, and the theocratic rule in Iran, is widely regarded as heretical in Shiism. Even among Iranian clerics the doctrine is not universally embraced. (Here.)

To its credit the Christian Science Monitor in 2004 published a story on the theological differences between Iranian and Iraqi Shiism over the doctrine of wilayet al faqeeh and how that mattered to the development of democracy in Iraq.
"A rare insight into Sistani's views on Iran's Wilayet al-Faqih system was posted on the Internet last week by an anonymous Sunni tribal leader who met with the reclusive Shiite cleric at his home in Najaf.

"'He does not believe in 'Wilayat al Faqeeh' as the clergy in Iran do.... He repeatedly stressed that religion has to be separated from government,' the letter said. 'He said that he firmly believed that the clergy should not interfere with the running of people's lives, with government or with administration. He had forbidden his followers from putting their noses into the state's affairs. He said that clearly and categorically (several times to stress the point!)'

"According to Sheikh Jalaleddine as-Saghir, Sistani's representative in Baghdad, the ayatollah recommends a multisectarian government for Iraq." (Here.)
It's not just nationalism that separates Iraqi Shiites from Iranian. They also differ in their view of the proper role of clerics in government. It's why Iraq's Shiite Ayatollah Al-Sistani continues to support democracy in Iraq. It's also why the United States has a chance to be influential in Iraq among Shiites despite Iran's presence next door.

-tdr

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