The Republicans' Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iraq
By Juan Cole
Clearing House" -- The Republican Party spin machine was
bouncing around the airwaves like an overloaded on Sunday attempting to obscure from the American
public that they had by their actions managed to install a Shiite
religious ruling class in Iraq. The
New York Times even lead with a headline, "U.S. Officials
Say a Theocratic Iraq Is Unlikely." This headline is probably
wrong, but in any case it begs the question of what a
If it means a clerically-ruled state, then I agree with Vice
President Dick Cheney that a) you have to look at what Grand
Ayatollah Ali Sistani wants, and b) that Sistani does not want
clerics to rule the country as in Iran. But the main goal of
political Islam in the past few decades hasn't been clerical rule.
It has been the replacement of civil law with shariah or Islamic
canon law. This was done by the non-clerical government of Sudan,
e.g. And that is where Iraq is headed. The only question is how
wideranging the substitution will be. Will it just be personal
status law (marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony, etc.), or
will it be in commercial law and other spheres of society?
Even as Cheney was pooh-poohing the notion of Iraqi theocracy,
Sistani's close colleague Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad
said, "We warn officials against a separation of the state
and religion." Then Sistani's spokesman came out and said
that the Grand Ayatollah Sistani "wants the source of
legislation to be Islam."
A lot of Americans believe whatever Cheney says, though I cannot
for the life of me understand why, since he lies to them
relentlessly. He is the one who tried to link Saddam and al-Qaeda
operationally. He even once said he knew exactly where Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction were. Most people will only remember
that Cheney said there wouldn't be an Iraqi theocracy, but won't
bother to actually read the newspapers on Monday to see the news
I'm reporting below.
Although George Orwell/ Eric Blair wrote 1984 as an
anarcho-syndicalist socialist critique of Stalinism, it is
becoming increasingly clear that it was also prophetic about the
direction of Late Capitalist societies characterized by corporate
media consolidation. In such a society, Cheney can substitute
himself for Sistani and speak for Sistani, erasing the real
Sistani just as the Republican pundits have erased the real Iraq.
"Ignorance is knowledge."
little-noticed development is how well followers of Muqtada
al-Sadr are doing in some provincial elections. They seem
likely to dominate Maysan Province in the south and to have a
strong influence in several others. The Sadrists are all about
puritanism and implementing Islamic law. A senior British official
conceded, "We will have to live with it."
the national level, the Shiite religious parties have begun
making it clear that implementing Islamic law is among their
The four grand ayatollahs in Najaf are jointly called "the
Source" (al-marja`iyyah), i.e. the source of authority that
must be blindly obeyed (taqlid) on religious issues. Shaikh
Ibrahim Ibrahimi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad
Ishaq al-Fayyad, issued a suprise communique, according to AFP.
Al-Fayyad is originally from Afghanistan, but came to Najaf at the
age of ten many decades ago.
I was originally going to quote the AFP translation of the
statement, but found it wrong in a couple of places and have made
"All the clerics and the sources of authority, and most of
the Muslim Iraqi people, emphatically request the state and the
national parliament that Islam be, in the permanent Iraqi
constitution, the sole source of legislation in Iraq, and that
any article or law be struck from the permanent constitution if
it contravenes Islam . . . [this matter] is non-negotiable . . .
[we warn against] changing the face of Iraq or separating
religion and state, for therein lie dangers that will bring
unfortunate results, which is rejected by all the clerics and
high religious authorities . . . [We warn against] the dangers
of undertaking derisory actions that hurt the feelings of
Muslims, such as conscripting Muslim girls and publishing their
pictures with foreign military trainers in magazines and daily
newspapers . . . That has a negative influence on the
government, which stands, today, in the most urgent need of
The four grand ayatollahs of Najaf may have internal
disagreements, but it is unlikely that al-Fayyad had this
statement issued without getting a consensus of the other three
AFP put in parenthetically:
' A source close to Sistani announced soon after the release of
the statement that the spiritual leader backed the demand.
"The marja has priorities concerning the formation of the
government and the constitution. It wants the source of
legislation to be Islam," said the source. '
Nordland and Babak Dehghanpisheh of Newsweek have a fine
profile of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani this week. The allegation
they quote from Hussein Shahristani, a Sistani spokesman, that the
grand ayatollah wants to be uninvolved in picking the new
government, however, is probably untrue. His views are being
actively sought on who the new prime minister should be.
AFP article adds concerning Sistani:
" While Sistani is taking a harder line on the
constitution, a source close to him said he does not oppose a
secular-led government. “He sees no problem with a prime
minister who is secular, because the current phase means that it
must be a politician with experience and this is not taught in
Koranic schools,” said the source. The source said Sistani
“does not want Iraq to be an Islamic republic like Iran
because the “velayat e-faqih’ is not an established
tradition in this country.” Velayat e-faqih was the ruling
principle of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led
Iran’s Islamic revolution, and put clerics at the heart of all
The article goes on to speculate that Sistani will stay out of
the process of writing the constitution. I very much doubt that!
Let's listen to
someone close to Sistani who would actually know about this issue:
‘‘What he [Sistani] wants is influence over the
constitution-writing process,’’ said Mowaffak Rubaie, a
prominent Shiite politician. ‘‘He wants to be sure it’s
So much for Mr. Cheney's fantasy of a non-intrusive Grand
Ayatollah unconcerned with politics who wants a separation of
religion and state. Cheney was only right that Sistani doesn't
want to rule directly. Nothing else he said on the subject is
reports [Arabic link] that Adnan al-Zurfi, the
American-appointed governor of Najaf province, has issued a decree
allowing the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr to resume their Friday
prayers at Kufa. The people of nearby Najaf are afraid that this
move may presage the return to their city of Mahdi Army
militiamen. Al-Zurfi's list lost in Najaf provincial elections,
and people are afraid that he is creating a poison pill for the
next provincial government, which is made up of religious Shiites.
implementation of religious law could have a deleterious
effect on Iraqi women. Bush likes to parade Iraqi women at his
official events, trying to imply that he has rescued them from
Arab male chauvinism. But Bush is likely to have been responsible
for the biggest roll-back of women's rights in the Middle East
since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
good sense of the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, and
the likely implication of the Shiite parties' win for Iraqis at
home and abroad, is presented by Steven Magagnini of the
Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of
Michigan. Visit his website http://www.juancole.com/
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