January 24, 2005

A Secular Iraqi Shia Face

Dexter Filkins:

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 Shiite leaders say there is a similar but less formal agreement that clerics will also be excluded from running the government ministries.

"There will be no turbans in the government," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party, one of the largest Shiite parties. "Everyone agrees on that."

Une bonne nouvelle, as the French would say.

This, however, remains an alarming wild card. Though my money, all told, is still on the Shi'a establishment keeping Sadr on the plantation (but it's a close call).

Posted by Gregory at January 24, 2005 04:42 AM | TrackBack (4)


Posted by: praktike at January 24, 2005 02:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This shouldn't surprise anyone. Sistani and the other senior Iraqi Shiite clerics do not want government office for themselves, and are unlikely to want junior clerics using government office to usurp senior clerics' religious authority with Iranian help. A secular government in which the majority Shiites have the dominant role is the best means of getting Sistani and company what they want. It always has been.

It is not what Sadr wants. Last year he sought to use violent opposition to the Americans as a vehicle to get him and his movement out from under the influence of the senior clerics. He failed, and his movement was weakened in consequence, but there is no reason to think his objective has changed. If he has seemed to waffle on the elections it is a sign that he hopes they will fail, undermining the senior clerics, but isn't sure enough they will fail to come out openly against them.

Posted by: Zathras at January 24, 2005 08:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike: re: "plantation"--it was late.
zathras: agreed on sadr's conflicting motivations re: senior clerics. also worth keeping an eye on: Chalabi's contacts with Sadr. There is a story there that no one has really mined yet re: how Chalabi is exerting a (at least short-term) positive influence on reining in Sadr. Put differently, was some part of the U.S. fallout w/ Ahmad theater, ie. make him appear to have all the right enemies to improve his street cred with more radical Shia?

Posted by: greg at January 25, 2005 05:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: who knows? On one hand you have dueling USG agencies pursuing competing Iraq policies before the war one of which relied on Chalabi while the other did not; on the other, Chalabi himself may have thought the invasion would blaze a path to power and is now pursuing the same objective through other means. There is a cultural source of confusion too -- Westerners and particularly Americans are apt sometimes to take the people they work with at their word until they clearly break it, and then to never trust them again on anything. It doesn't work quite that way in other cultures.

Having said all that, I judge Chalabi to be a better actor than any of the Americans he has dealt with. I'm sure he wants Sadr's people to think he has made enemies of the Americans, but I'm not sure our guys would have come up with that idea in the first place or that they are going along with it now.

Posted by: Zathras at January 25, 2005 11:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Posted by: dog health information at January 28, 2005 05:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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