Tuesday, October 25, 2005

in the South


From Rory Stewart's article in Prospect, November 2005, 'Losing the south':
The founding leader of SCIRI, Muhammed Bakr al-Hakim, an Iraqi cleric, campaigned for a theocracy in which the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini would become the supreme leader of a Shia superstate embracing Iran and Iraq.

Immediately after the allied invasion, al-Hakim recommended compromise with the coalition, no longer calling for an Iranian theocracy but instead for "a democratic free Iraq that reflects the interests of its people." He was assassinated...
However, after the previous war, Bakr al-Hakim said 'an Islamic government in Baghdad does not necessarily have to be similar to the Iranian system'.  (*)

As Stewart says, any understanding of the current situation in southern Iraq depends on a detailed knowledge' of Da'wa, SCIRI/Badr and the Sadrists, but it is difficult to define the differences between them.One interesting little detail...
Sadr II [Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr] reached out to the poor with a charity supported by pious Iraqis. Tens of thousands of young men, often from poor homes, began to attend the mosques where his young disciples preached. The most senior leader of the Iraqi Shia was (and is) Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a much more learned scholar. But Sistani was born in Iran and did not give public sermons—some said because he did not want people to hear him speak Arabic with a Persian accent.
On the general situation:
Despite their intolerance and violent methods, the new politicians are often young technocrats with a confident and articulate programme of anti-corruption and economic development. Their religious beliefs can be an important moderating influence in Shia society. So too are wider mechanisms of social control, confidence and moral concern. Thousands of Shia have been killed by Sunni terrorists in Iraq but the Shia community has generally refused to retaliate. Restraint has been shown not only by Sistani but also by political leaders at a district level. The leaders I met on my last visit had stopped complaining that they were the victims of a Zionist plot and seemed realistic, tolerant and humorous about progress. They had begun to find the capacity to co-operate with each other and lay the foundations for government and security.

The new order in southern Iraq is, in short, hard to define. It is an improvement on the political exclusion and sadistic inhumanity of Saddam and has a great deal to teach the Sunni areas about prosperity, security and politics. But it is also reactionary, violent, intolerant towards women and religious minorities and uncooperative with the coalition. [...]

Southern Iraq is a democracy but we should not assume that this or any of the other terms which we deploy frequently about Iraq—insurgency, civil society, civil war, police force or even political party— mean what they do in Britain. There have been elections, but the government is not responsive to or respectful of human rights. In many ways it resembles Iran, but it is not governed by clerics. Its militias are not infiltrators, they are an integral element of the elected parties. The new government is oppressive, but has a popular mandate; it is supported by illegal militias, but it has improved security.
(*)  Anatoliya, 5 March 1991; quoted in The Gulf Conflict 1990-1991: Diplomacy and War in The New World Order, Lawrence Freedman, Efraim Karsh, 2nd Ed., 1994.

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