May 13, 2004

Some Perspective

From Jim Hoagland.

Meanwhile, goods news on the Moktada al Sadr front.

Sully has the details.

And here's some more must-read perspective on the whole Shi'a angle (from last year but still highly relevant):

"Nevertheless, the large majority of Iraqi Shi'ites probably have no desire to mimic the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are aware of the situation there and do not want to move from a secular totalitarian system to an overbearing theocracy. Iraq's political culture and social makeup, moreover, are very different from those of Iran. Quite apart from the existence of Sunnis, Kurds, Chaldeans, and Turkmen in the country, the Iraqi Shi'ite community is itself diverse. There are secularists (including liberals and communists) and various religious groups, urban and rural dwellers, rich and poor, Shi'ites who have never left Iraq and those who have spent decades in exile. There is no single leader who can speak for all Iraqi Shi'ites, let alone oversee the transformation of postwar Iraq into an Iranian-style Islamic republic.

That said, defining the relationship between religion and politics in Iraq will be a major challenge facing Shi'ite religious groups. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who in the past advocated an Islamic government, has more recently adopted a different tone. Hakim returned to Najaf this past May after 23 years in exile, and he is positioning himself as a contender for Shi'ite religious leadership in Iraq. It remains to be seen what course he will choose, given the complex social reality in Iraq and the U.S. presence there. If he adopts a pragmatic course, Hakim will be following in the footsteps of the Lebanese cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who acknowledged that the conditions for an Islamic state did not exist in Lebanon.

The Iraqi Shi'ites, together with their non-Shi'ite compatriots, will need to develop a national identity broad enough to unite the country. Together, Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs constitute 75 percent of the population. The two groups are linked by a large number of mixed marriages and share social codes and cultural attributes that could form the basis of an Iraqi nationalism drawing on the ideas of the literary figure Ali al-Sharqi, who died in 1964. Sharqi offered a vision of nationalism that built on the strong Arab tribal character of Iraqi society. He advocated the development of a nationalist ideology that combined broadly Eastern and Arab elements with specifically Iraqi values and heritage. Sharqi's vision was also clearly influenced by the effort of Egyptians to use their ancient past as a foundation myth. His ideas have influenced later generations of Iraqi intellectuals, and they may be further developed as a new Iraqi nation takes shape."

Keeping this broader perspective in mind (and indulging me a mini-bout of flippancy)-- Moktada might well be remembered by history as a pimply, post-adolescent hothead who over-reached and got burned badly.

At least let's hope so.

Posted by Gregory at May 13, 2004 08:30 AM
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