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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

4/05/2004

al-Sadr and the rule of the theocrats

As reports come in from Iraq about a Shi'ite insurgency lead by Moqtada al-Sadr it would be wise to read a bit of background. Here's a quote from an excellent article in the Christian Science Monitor which describes the faction fights in the Shi'ite community,
Iran's Wilayet al-Faqih doctrine (governance of the religious jurist, preached in the Iranian city of Qom) was devised in the mid-1970s by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and served as the ideological underpinning of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran which he led. It grants absolute authority over all matters - religious, social, and political - to a marja who has earned the title of mujtahid, a blend of judge and theologian.

Although the Wilayat al-Faqih system was successfully introduced into Iran's homogenous Shiite society, exporting the doctrine elsewhere has proved difficult.
christian science monitor
Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers, including an illegal milita, believe that the right model for Iraq is the Wilayat al-Faqih system. but, as the Monitor points out, what "works" in a nearly homogenous Shi'ite state is less likely to work in a state where 40% of the people are not Shi'ite.

There are questions being raised as to whether al-Sadr is a stalking horse for Iran. It is a pretty good bet that he has received money and possibly trained men from Iran; but it is an open question as to whether he is actually seeking Iran's interests or if what he sees as Shi'ite interests in Iraq happen to coincide with the goals of the Iranian Ayatollahs.

It probably does not matter because, either way, what al-Sadr sees as the way forward for Iraq is completely incompatible with what a majority of Iraqis appear to want and what the United State would be prepared to countenance. al-Sadr wants to establish clerical rule and that is not possible in a democratic state.

About the last thing the increasingly embattled Iranian Ayatollahs want is a democratic secular Iraq run with Sunnis, Kurds and Shi'ite working together. The Iranian Ayatollahs are already having enough trouble with their own dissidents demands for reform.

Cynically, it is quite possible that the Ayatollahs, at least some of them would welcome a civil war in Iraq in which "the Great Satan" is bogged down killing radical Shi'ites. (A strategy which would, ironically, be exactly what al Qaeda's strategy document for Iraq.) It would have the double benefit of creating a fresh wave of anti-Americanism in the countryside of Iran where the radical clerics draw their support and would make it all the easier for the Iranians to get on with their atomic weapons project.