Political & Legal Developments in Iraq & its regional implications























Lawrence Ershaghi

                                                                             Law of Nationbuilding Fall 2005

Professor Henry H. Perritt, Jr.



The historical rise of Islamic movements, primarily the emergence of Iraq’s Islamic movement, followed by a chronicle of the actual development and analysis of the movement are the focus of this paper. Explaining for Islamic activism in Iraq requires an inquiry into the historical record of the movement, which is primarily Shi’a. Since history records primarily the deeds of the powerful and Shi’a Muslims as a disadvantaged people who have not held national level political power, their political history has received little scholarly attention. By virtue of Iraq’s demographics the Shi’a constitute the majority population, making them the primary political actor and thus the focus of this paper centers primarily on them. The course the Shi’a choose will undoubtedly determine the political landscape of the future of Iraq and inevitably influence Shi’a elsewhere in the Middle East. Moreover, since Islam is the primary motivating force behind these movements, it is necessary to provide a thorough background on the modern development of the religion itself to understand the overall picture of the themes and trends in the region today. Lack of or disregard of knowledge on these matters is what has caused many U.S. government blunders in the region, preventing them from making more informed and prudent policies.


Contextual Background of Islam and Politics

Relationships between human beings and a divine entity figure in many human calculations, whether the social scientists share the actor’s belief in the existence of a divine entity or not. And while the principle of separation of church and state is an important legacy of the American Constitution in light of American history, it is necessary to understand that other countries have different histories, different cultures, and different sets of beliefs. It is these differences of beliefs that have led to a fundamental disagreement on the notion of the political and religious between the western world and the Islamic world. In Arabic, politics, which translates to Seyassah, has a different meaning than its English counterpart. It is something more precise and yet broader. It is the general management of human condition, not merely by means of state or other political mechanisms.

Terms like “Political Islam,” “Radical Islam,” and “Islamic fundamentalism,” are media terms, often with no analytical use or value. The objection of the use of these terms is that Islam has always been a political religion, concerned with the political realm. It is true that in recent history, the political realm has come to operation more than any other time, but the political in Islam is redundant. It would be similar to the term “single bachelor,” whereby the single would be redundant since a bachelor by its very definition is single. The belief that Islam is concerned with politics is not an aberration, but rather the re-assertion of a permanent feature of the religion itself. If any deviation is observable in the contemporary Muslim world it is not the assertion of the political relevance of Islam, but on the contrary secularism. The notion that Islam can be reduced to a realm of personal interest or cultural significance with no interest in politics simply can not be sustained with reference to its authoritative sources. To take a contemporary example, even in Turkey, which is the only Muslim country to make a fanatical assertion of its secular identity, 80 years after the establishment of the secular Turkish republic by Ataturk, one finds a party with Islamic roots currently in power. [1]

As for Al-Qaeda the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not consider it to be a genuine Islamic movement, but rather a deviation from Islamic tenets.[2] An Islamic movement must be dedicated to something more than the indiscriminate propagation of violence against questionable targets. It must have a program for the establishment of an Islamic state, something utterly lacking in the case of Al-Qaeda. Of course, simply because it does not qualify as a legitimate Islamic movement, does not negate the danger and fanaticism of the movement and its adherents. Al-Qaeda’s ideology of influence Wahhabism is not even a fruitful or important school of thought in Islam. [3]

Wahhabis define themselves in their own terms as a people who orient themselves to their righteous ancestors (Salafis) and maintain an extreme idealization of first century of Islam.[4] This movement has given rise to the Saudi state, which is a military and political expression of Wahhabism. Early Wahhabis also considered all people who rejected their views as non-Muslims. In fact, Wahhabis were really the first “Muslims” to declare jihad against another group of Muslims, declaring themselves as the exclusive custodians of Islam.[5] Shi’a Islam has always been one of the principal targets of their hostility. [6] Their intense venom of Shi’a was manifested when they destroyed the dome of the revered Shi’a martyr Imam Hussein, when they conquered Karbala, Iraq in 1802.[7]

Moreover, the latest fad is the debate about the compatibility between Islam and democracy.[8] The promotion of the debate presumes as if it were a real issue. It is a foolish discussion asking “do Muslims really want to rule themselves or do they prefer tyranny?” It has nothing to do with the reality of the Muslim world. The discussion takes place outside of the Muslim world and has no relevance to the daily problems afflicting Muslims. It is similar to the debates about the compatibility between Islam and socialism in the 1960s during the heyday of Jamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt.  By the same token, constitutional rule, as a comprehensive document for implementation, which spells out in detail the responsibility of government and distribution of power with various branches of government is also an innovation in Islamic history. [9] Mashrutheh, the Arabic word for constitution, derives from the Arabic word for condition, which places restrictions on exercise of power.[10] Thus, conditions of power opposed to absolute rule are the objective. This is why the constitutional revolution of Iran in 1906 did not seek to abolish the monarchy, but rather to regulate it. Demand for constitutional government goes back to the Young Ottomans. [11]


Historical background of Islamic activism

European imperialistic encroachment unto Muslim lands, in the heartland of the Middle East, generated a sense of crisis from the late 18th century onwards, which led to an upsurge in Islamic awareness. [12] Muslims found that the political structures in place at the time were inadequate in confronting the challenges of European imperialism. The existing political structures became in themselves agents of European imperial encroachment. So a state, a dynasty, a monarchy, which had been more or less tolerable before, was gradually seen as an agent of European impingement. In additional, related development, the state became more of an actor in the social, economic, and cultural lives of the society, which generated resentment. [13]

In the 19th century, the state which in the pre-modern period was rather restrictive, witnessed an expansion of its authority. So a traditional, ineffective corrupt monarchy is gradually replaced by an authoritarian system that gets involved in the lives of society. A case in point is Iran from the transition of the Qajar dynasty to the Pahlavi dictatorship. [14] One complex development in all of this is the rise of Islamic movements. An interesting feature of Islamic movements of the 20th century is that laymen, not the traditional religious classes, launched them. The exception to this trend was Iran, where the traditional religious class led the Islamic movement. [15] The traditional religious scholars in other societies failed to address and adapt to new circumstances and thus created a vacuum to be filled.

The major turning point in contemporary Islamic history, which was of great psychological significance, was the destruction of the caliphate, a symbol of Muslim unity. [16] The abolition of the caliphate was primarily because of British planning and internal weakness in the Ottoman state.[17] At the end of World War I, a whole complex of negative developments took place after the breakup of Ottoman State.  The British and the French embarked upon the creation of artificial states with artificial borders in the region. [18] They put unrepresentative governments in place, which existed on behalf of external interests. A lasting legacy of their colonial project was the gradual strengthening of ethnic nationalism in every part of the Middle East, albeit the nationalism retained a strong sense of religious identity. “How great it is to be a Turk” popularized slogan by Ataturk, is just one example of the proliferation of nationalism.[19] The Kurds, who were initially happy to be part of trans-national Muslim community, soon resented the new order.

Ataturk, in the name of republicanism, embarked upon a comprehensive eradication of program of Islam, which was not limited to just the state, but society and culture at large.[20] With the rise of Turkish republic and abolition of the caliphate the first only explicitly secular state in the Muslim world was established. One of the main reasons the measures of Reza Shah of Iran did not attain the same results as neighboring Turkey is because there remained in Iran an autonomous body of religious scholars. This fact proved to be fundamental as well in the case of Iraq under the secularization drive embarked upon by the Baathist party. In Turkey, the ulama (religious scholars) received salary from the state making them appendages of the state, so it was relatively easy for Ataturk and founders of Turkish republic simply to dissolve the entire class because they lacked autonomy and basic financial resources. [21]

The dismemberment of Ottoman Empire led to the infiltration of a new massive western culture whereby elites dotted the landscape with nationalism and liberalism. The reaction against all this was “fundamentalism” in the making. This was a direct antithesis of the Islamic reformation of the 19th century. Islamism thus developed a populist ideology of protest against the failures of the authoritarian modern nation-state and its nationalist elites. The first arrival was the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) in Egypt in 1928.[22] Party of Liberation (Hizb ut-Tahriri), emerged in 1940s calling for restoration of pan-Islamic caliphate.[23]  Islamic Assembly (Jamaat-e-Islami) in India was another example.[24] And last of trend is Islamic Dawa Party (al-Dawa al Islamiyya) in 1958 in Iraq.[25]

While the Islamic reformation of the 19th century sought to restructure Islam so it could meet the demands of modernity, the “fundamentalist” trend sought the fundamental preservation of Islam from western influence. According to one Iraqi scholar “this trend was initiated by old status groups who projected their sense of alienation, decline or national doom as ‘the loss of Islam.’ Their identity was one of cultural exclusivism. Their strategy was political (assume political power), pedagogical (to indoctrinate society) or a combination of both, shifting from the two.” [26]  The pivot of these Islamic movements has always been the centrality of Islam, although the spectrum of movements is wide and has differing interpretations. [27]

This Islamist tendency grew sharper with the transition to market economy and events such as June 1967 Israeli military defeat of the Arab regimes, which dealt a huge blow to secular Arab nationalism. The major participants in this Islamist project came from the educated urban lower classes and marginalized classes of former rural origin. Islamism presented itself as an alternate third way, which defied capitalist and communist projects, summed up in the Iranian revolutionary slogan “Neither east nor west, only Islam.” [28]

The instrumentalist use of Islam as an ideology[29] can be problematic from the perspective of Muslims, who view the Quran as the literal word of God. The word ideology indicates a system of ideas and ideas by their very nature are fallible and of human origination. Once Islam is transformed into an ideology there is an unspoken loss of its assertion. It no longer gives rise to a political program, but virtually becomes co-determinous with that political program. This is why Ayatollah Mutaharri objected to the term “Islamic ideology” because it reduces Islam to a system of human origination. [30] Islamic revolution and Revolutionary Islam in contrast arise from teachings and aspirations of Islam, but remains simply one aspect of Islam. Thus, Islam does not exhaust itself by being a source of inspiration for revolution.

The ultimate goal then of the Islamic movements is to reverse the trend of secularization through the implementation of the sharia.[31] The purpose of the sharia is the refinement and elevation of individuals by establishing the political community of Islam. [32] Ayatollah Khomeini’s argument for the establishment of an Islamic state was that “for any human society governance is a rational necessity. Islam is a religion of law and a law necessarily implies a need for mechanism of implementation and execution (i.e. a state).” [33] Thus the slogan “Al-Islam masdarul tashri” (Islam is ‘the’ source of legislation) has become the foundation of all Islamic movements. [34]


Religious & Ethnic Composition of Iraq:

Like many of the countries in the Middle East, the Iraqi nation state was a creation of the British in the aftermath of World War I. It was the amalgamation of three provinces: Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul that were randomly carved from the Ottoman empire. [35] This area defined by the British contained a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic and religious groups of the most diverse nature, primarily Arab, Muslim, and Kurdish. However, the reality was that Iraq was a “predominantly agrarian Bedouin city with feeble semi-autonomous cities lacking national cultural homogeneity.” [36] This is why the modern nation state of Iraq is an invention by the British colonial power in almost all respects.

The contemporary political vocabulary employed by many analysts and media outlets into dividing Iraq into three categories, well defined in statistical accuracy and unified into primarily Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurd can often be misleading and inadequate. Such a division creates the impression that Kurds are neither Sunni nor Shi’a, when in fact they are both.[37] Such divisions also fail to take into account the substantial number of inter-religious families where a husband may be Sunni, while the wife is Shi’a and the children are both. Moreover, the categorization of Shi’a implies a monolithic religious group that is socially homogenous.  In fact, Iraqi Shiism is multifaceted comprising of “clerical classes of the holy cities, urban bourgeoisie, modern intellectuals, and tribal peasants, and their chiefs, where there politics is far from uniform communal solidarity.”[38] That being said and conceding that such labels are an oversimplification of a complex reality, the labels do contain obvious truths.

There is also a close link between Iranian religious class and institutions with those of Shi’a Iraq. (footnote and cite). Many Iranian clerics have taken residence in the shrine cities of Iraq and studied in the seminaries. Moreover, many of the clerical families in Iraq have their origins in Iran making the Shi’a community in Iraq trans-national. [39] Unlike Sunnism in Iraq and Shiism in Iran, Iraqi Shiism has never had a government sponsor. Given this face and Iraqi Sunni Arabs feelings of superiority, due to centuries of political and economic privilege, hostility between the sects had been slight.


Historical background of Shi’a activism in Iraq:

The Iraqi Islamic political movement is vulnerable to the charge of sectarianism since its religious composition is primarily Shi’a. However, if sectarianism implies anti-Sunnism, the charge lacks any credibility because the derogation of Sunnism is nonexistent in the literature of the Shi’a movement and its various publications. [40] In the words of the late Mohammad Baqir Sadr, the goal of the movement was to “unite the “virtuous rich and virtuous poor” in a defense of religious and traditional values.” [41] Moreover, Shi’a opposition to the state was not doctrinal, but historical and political. Opposition was not directed at Sunnis, but at the traditional hierarchy of power, which the Sunnis happened to occupy.

The political activists in Iraq’s Islamic movement reject secularism and insist Muslims be subject to Islamic law. They are “fundamentalists” in the sense that they are attempting to construct the fundamentals of Islamic ideology in a modern society. Although, they recognize that scripture allows more than one interpretation. They are Islamists, in that they advocate Islam both politically and religiously, insisting that Iraq should have an Islamic political order. Like any social movement, Iraq’s Islamic political movement has developed a literature embodying its essential ideology and principles. [42]

The rise of modern Shi’a Islamic militancy in Iraq can be dated to late 1950’s, after the demise of monarchy in July 1958, although its roots go back much further. In 1977, mass anti-Baathist protests and demonstrations in Karbala, Najaf,  and Khan al-Nus. [43]  Since then, the rise of Shi’a Islamism has been a major feature of Iraq’s social and political development. The Islamic Shi’a movement had various sources of contention with the Baathist regime.  As a consequence of secularization, Islam was not only relegated to a secondary, ethical system, but juristic and social role of clerical group was diminishing. The main interest of the ulama has always been to preserve Islamic law and defend their autonomous institution and certain monopoly over Shi’a lay community. The power of the Shi’a ulama stems from three major sources: “knowledge of sacred texts, monopoly of its interpretation and transmission, control over religious taxes.”[44] These would count for little though if the sacred were not itself dominant as a system of beliefs. Revenues from Khums[45] and Zakat[46] taxes enable them to generate an autonomous power base and infrastructures. This autonomy is one of the features that distinguish Shi’a Islam from Sunni Islam.  Moreover, in Sunni Islam, the seminaries are integrated into the state to provide legitimacy to the ruling authority.  Egypt’s al-Azhar is case in point. [47]

The triumph of the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1978 “radically changed the political landscape in the Middle East and had profound impact on regional politics and internal development of neighboring countries.”[48] Among the most affected countries was undoubtedly Iraq. Shi’a Islamist movements emerged as a challenge to a formidable Baathist regime, which created the prospect of the Iranian scenario reproducing itself in Iraq. To celebrate the triumph of the revolution in Iran, Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr declared a three day holiday from February 11th at the Najaf Hawza.[49] On the same day, a peaceful procession was organized from Masjed al-Khadra after evening prayer, where pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini were held aloft.[50] A month later, Sadr wrote a booklet comprising of commentary on construction of new Islamic order in Iran. [51]

The first real display of force by the Shi’a was on May 22, 1979, which was initiated by Al-Dawa Party and Sadr, in what came to be known as the Rajab Intifida.[52]  Events such as this, led to Saddam outlawing membership in Dawa Party making it punishable by death.[53] In retaliation, in April, 1980 Sadr issued a fatwa making membership in the Baathist party haraam,[54] which led to his arrest and subsequent execution.[55] This was a profound turn of events because it was the first execution of a Grand Ayatollah in the modern history of Middle East. With the elimination of Sadr, the Shiites, above all Dawa party lost a unifying symbol.

When Saddam invaded Iran on September 22, 1980, he also expelled many Shi’a, forcing them to relocate outside of Iraq. This massive expulsion brought a considerable number of the leaders and members of the Shi’a Islamic movements to Iran, where they sustained a radical change in organization and ideology. It was in 1982, while in Iran where Baqir al Hakim announced the formation of The Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) in Iran 1982.[56] In the initial stages of its formation, SCIRI, was an Iranian sponsored bureacratic organization with the purpose of unifying the fragmented Iraqi Islamist groups. [57] The organization constructed its own milita unit, known as Faylaq Badr (Badr corps), which were trained, armed and deployed by Iranian authorities. [58]

The dislocations caused by two Gulf Wars and destitution caused by international sanctions imposed since 1990 drove the Iraqi people to the generosity of religious charities and warmth of communal fraternities. In the words of one observer, “religious charities provided food, medical care, and more importantly, certainty in a world of macabre arbitrariness.”[59] In the wake of the failure of the uprisings of 1991, a noticeable rise in popular piety and religious observance began to take hold nationwide. The government even tried to exploit this by making good for their discredited secular ideology. For example, on the eve of the Gulf War, “Allahu Akbar”[60] was inscribed on Iraqi flag and the motto “the believer strives forward” replaced the old slogan “the baath strives forward.” [61] Women were encouraged to veil and the government even closed down bars along the Abu Nuas street. Of course the people were not deceived by Saddam’s efforts to portray himself as a devout Muslim.

Mohammad Sadiq Al-sadr gradually began activism in midst of all this. He built vast networks of followers amongst the peasantry and urban lower classes, which would prove effective for mobilization efforts. At this point, Najaf, the center of leadership was split between Sadr II[62] and apolitical Grand Ayatollah Sistani, where friction was apparent, yet diplomatic.[63] Since Saddam’s dictatorial rule could not tolerate a popular figure, he had Sadr II and his two sons assassinated in February 1995. Sadr’s lasting legacy was that he “succeeded in maintaining Shi’a identity by creating massive infrastructures and organized constituents that played an important role in the years to come”[64] It was his son Moqtada who inherited this massive infrastructure. Moqtada’s “character, age, and style represent dramatic turn in Iraqi Shiism. His attempt to override the clerical norms of seniority, such as knowledge-based rank is his weakest point. His instrument is street politics that is his strongest point.” [65] Sadr’s movement is not insignificant, but his influence and power should not be exaggerated. The movement’s base consists of East Baghdad’s urban poor who benefit from its multitude of charity networks.


The role of Shi’a Clergy in Politics

With the removal of Saddam from power, the political strength of the Shi’a ulama was underestimated in the prewar planning stage. Paul Wolfowitz demonstrated his ignorance when he described Iraqi’s as being secular. [66] He failed to understand the power the clergy yield and failed to appreciate of importance of shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala. Professor Juan Cole ridiculed the administration by saying “that their fantasy of Iraq is now meeting the real Iraq.” [67] Moreover, in the words of one observer:

“The US never understood the significance of Islam to a Muslim country. Believing that the adage "render unto Caesar what's Caesar's and render unto God what's God's" is (or should be) applicable to the entire world. They do understand that such a proposition is not only alien to the world of Islam - most established governments have constantly rejected it.” [68] 


While Shi’a Islam has no institutionalized clerical hierarchy, the marjaiya (the autonomous religious authority) are at center of Shi’a power. [69]  The marjai are charged with deciding what is permissible in religion. The ulama has “traditionally consisted of family-based leadership in local city solidarity and supra-national networks of emulators and novices.” [70] Thus, their power base lay in the family solidarities where families such as Sadr, Hakim, and Khoi comprise through direct descent or inter-marriage an important element in the advancement of an individual. Al-Dawa is an exception to this prominence of family solidarities.

The ulama’s notion of Islamic government is not one of majority rule, but rather one where the judiciary is entrusted with upholding God’s law, without popular right to change those laws, since only God has the authority to legislate. Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr rejected majority rule as entailing submission to humans, which contravenes the very essence of Islam.[71] Sadr believed that the source of error in western social systems was placing the individual above family and society. He criticized the way in which individuals feel responsibility only for themselves and believed personal interests are not always in accordance with society’s interests. Moreover, the focus of citizen loyalty in an Islamic state is to be Islam, not nationalism, either Arab or Kurdish. Islamists assert that Arab nationalism is modern counterpart of Arab tribalism.


Ayatollah Sistani

Since the American invasion of Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani[72], an Iranian-born cleric residing in Najaf has become the paramount voice of Shiism. Sistani’s influence is paramount among the urban middle and upper class of Shi’a community. Most of his closest aides are in Iran. He has refused to meet with any US official. [73] Despite his popularity, Sistani does face certain obstacles. First, many Shi’a do not want anything to do with the Americans. His Ghandi like tactics had provoked the anger of anti-American radical leaders such as Moqtada.

From its inception, the “conflict” has been more about tactics than objectives. Rather than resist the Americans through violence, Sistani choose to play them at their own game, by demanding an immediate implementation of democracy. What helped Sistani’s case was the fact that after toppling Saddam, the Bush administration found itself left with very little support from the Europeans. When Bush refused to hold elections, Sistani flexed his power by mobilizing his followers to fill the streets in protest.[74] The Bush administration realized how foolish it would be to oppose Sistani. Simply put, they could not afford crossing someone with his level of influence in the Shi’a community.  After all it was Sistani who calmed the firebrand rhetoric and activities of Moqtada al Sadr [75]

He was also the one who insisted on having UN inspectors at the elections on January 30, 2005. [76] He claimed it was religiously obligatory for the people to vote. The victory of the Shi’a led coalition in the January elections was undoubtedly a Sistani victory.  Sistani wished not to repeat the mistakes of history when the Shi’a  boycotted the elections of 1922, objecting to them being held under British occupation. [77] What did this stance get them? A British-written constitution and exclusion from political power. So when US administrator Paul Bremer attempted to press for a constitution written by US appointed officials, Sistani demanded that the constitutional assembly should be  voted directly by the Iraqi people themselves.

The key to Iraq’s success is in his hands, so the Americans must take him very seriously. If the administration, foolishly decides to overstep him, he could literally unleash hell. His vision of democracy is also much different than the “liberal democracy” the Americans contemplated. While Sistani belongs to quietest Shi’a tradition, his notion of separation of religion and politics bears no relation to the United States understanding of that principle. Sistani’s objective is to have Iraq establish an “Islamic-friendly regime, ruled by politicians, yet supervised in religious affairs by the ulama.”[78] Sistani played his cards right by using the game of democracy to deliver political power to the Shi’a, who have suffered from decades of political and social subjugation.




Constitution drafting is an arduous task complicated with tough negotiating and compromising. What complicated Iraq’s drafting process was that it was under tremendous time pressure. There are many key issues in the constitution, amongst them the issue of federalism, revenue sharing, the role of Islam, and the role of militia groups.

The most contentious issue of the constitution drafters was the question of federalism. After the results of the elections, Iraqis will now be confronted to make a choice that will have enormous ramifications in the long run for their nation. The main question is will Iraq remain united as one nation or if it will be carved up and to what extent.  The possibility of the country holding together depends on the cooperation between the Sunni’s and the Shi’a. Although, northern Iraq where the Kurds reside is already a de facto separate state. If the country were to split, the south of Iraq would in effect become an Iranian satellite and central Iraq would be a Sunni province. But it would be difficult to carve up Iraq, because in the capital, Baghdad is comprised of Shi’a neighborhoods, Sunni neighborhoods, and a number of mixed neighborhoods. Moreover, there is going to be a lot of tension between Arabs and Kurds over who controls the oilfields of Kirkuk, especially since the Kurds want it to be part of Kurdistan. Saddam’s Arabization policy complicates Kurdish aspirations to control Kirkuk since its population consists of Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomens.  

Then there is the difficult problem of how to divide the nation’s primary asset, oil. Since Iraq is of course a major oil producer, there are very serious disputes about how to divide oil revenues. Generally, the natural resources belong to the state, and therefore the state will have the right to the revenues from it. The issue of allocation is particularly sensitive to Sunnis, who reside in the part of the country that has little oil. They are enormously concerned that the constitution, “provides to other communities and other regions the vast majority of Iraq’s wealth, and they’ll be sort of doomed to be impoverished from the start.”[79]

The role of Islam is another major issue affecting the constitution. There was consensus amongst the drafters of the constitution that Islam should be the official religion of the country. However, the issue of contention was how much of a role it should play in the matters of the state. The constitution has made the sharia the chief source of law. However it is not clear what incorporating Islam in the body politic means? How much of a role Islam plays in commercial law, property law, inheritance, family matters all remain to be seen.

Another thorny issue that remains unresolved is the role of militia groups. Both the Kurds and Shi’a have been adamant about retaining their respective milita groups. The Kurds wish to retain the peshmerga[80] and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq wishes to retain the Badr Brigades.[81] This retention demanded by the respective groups remains a source of contention between them and the U.S. which desires to see the militias disbanded. [82] In any event, the passing of the constitution does not mark the end, but the foundation of constitutional governance in Iraq. But one thing is certain, if this new government is not able to provide basic services, increase amount of electricity, provide clean water, jobs, and economic recovery, the people will not be sure how important the constitution or elections will be.


Regional Implications :

The GCC states[83] are fearful that the new regime in Baghdad will have negative repercussions on them. A theocracy in Baghdad aligning itself with Tehran is perceived as a genuine regional challenge by the Gulf Arab states. Indeed, the most adversely impacted by the rise of the Shi’a in Iraq will be Saudi Arabia. Saudi’s fears the rise of the Shi’a in Iraq “because of their own restive Shi'a population, concentrated in the oil rich northeastern area of the country, demand greater rights and perhaps even a measure of local autonomy.”[84] This explains why many elements within the Saudi government are funding the insurgency to derail the political process in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is under tremendous pressure domestically from powerful Islamists. In fact, “several prayer leaders opted to resign their posts in early 2002 to indicate their opposition to Riyadh’s putative collusion with Washington.”[85] 

Likewise a semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan, even if part of a federalist system, will re-ignite Kurdish aspirations of independence in Iran and Turkey. Such aspirations do not sit well with either country, which both have large Kurdish minorities. Half of all Kurds live in Turkey, where they comprise over 20 percent of the Turkish population. Modern Turkey's founder, “Mustafa Kemal enacted a constitution 70 years ago which denied the existence of distinct cultural sub-groups in Turkey. As a result, any expression by the Kurds of unique ethnic identity has been harshly repressed.” [86] Even  the use of the Kurdish language was illegal until 1991. [87]

Moreover, Kuwait’s main minority population is Shi’a. Although the Shi’a comprises less than 30 percent, they are better off than other Shi’as in the GCC states, but they nevertheless do continue to face discrimination. Jordan is under tremendous pressure to democratize from Islamist forces. King Abdullah also fears “extension of Iranian influence to common border of Iraq warning of a “Shia crescent” extending from Iran through Iraq and Syria and into Southern Lebanon.” [88] Indeed, the only regime that is not harmed, but rather benefited by the events in Iraq is Iran due to the empowerment of the Shi’a. The balance of power in regional politics has now been tilted to their benefit, which also benefits Hezbollah of Lebanon, since they are also Shi’a organization. The language of reform is everywhere in region from Bahrain to Qatar to Iraq’s neighbors. However, openings by authoritarian leaders are used to live another day and to appease foreigners looking at moves for democratization, to relieve pressure as safety valve to in terms of demands and criticism of the authoritarian systems.  Moreover, satellite dishes have changed the dynamics. The people in the region know the difference between pretend show and real democracy. The most important note to observe is that the most popular oppositional forces in the region are those espousing some type of relationship with Islam and politics. They are vehemently opposed to the state of Israel and reject Western hegemony in the region as well.


Conclusion: Political Future of Iraq / Obstacles (Insurgency)

The question is not whether the future political order of Iraq will be Islamic, indeed it will, but the more important question will be how Islamic the emerging government is likely to be? No Islamic system would be majority rule in changing the fundamental law, since that’s domain outside of human province. Interpretation could of course respond to societal interests. Of course divine law is immutable and thus Islamic government could be profoundly conservative with proposed changes resisted as attempts to change God’s law.

For Shi’a Islamic groups, democracy has an oversimplified dual meaning: majority rule and people as a source of power and legislation. First it serves as means for automatic Shi’a majority government. While the Shi’a have been forced to compromise on the issue of Islam in order to form a government and write a constitution for now, it is likely once they gain majority position in parliament from the recent elections they will push this agenda much more strongly.  It should come as no surprise then why the US is now using the Kurdish and Sunni Arab Votes to neutralize the Shi’a notions of Islamic government. Indeed,    

"the timing of the so-called secret prison's ‘discovery’ is also interesting, coming at a time when the US is trying to diminish the influence of the Shi'ite Islamist bloc in the government. The elections scheduled for December 15 are seen as a perfect opportunity by the Americans and their main ally in Iraq, former premier Iyad Allawi, to curtail the electoral clout of SCIRI and other Shi'ite organizations and personalities, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi. The ‘discovery’ of the secret detention center and the sensational reporting that followed is part of this American-led electoral strategy”[89]

Those who had a superficial understanding of Iraq always thought the insurgency was the main opponent of the United States, but for those well-versed in Iraqi politics and knowledgeable of the dynamics, always knew it was the Iraqi Shi'a Islamists allied to Iran which posed the most formidable challenge to the vision the United States had for post-Saddam Iraq. Less attention was paid to this dynamic because the Shi’a choose the route of non-violence and the ballot while the insurgency chooses the route of violence and the bullet. Ironically though the more violence is on the ground, the more power the United States has to impose its view, while when it dissipates the more the Iraqi's can impose their vision. The United States is undoubtedly aware that as long as there is an insurgency it impedes an independent Iraqi government.  

The United States now finds itself in a real Catch 22. They either secure Iraq and save face with the world and prove that the quagmire was not a quagmire, but at the same time lose Iraq or let the insurgency continue, but American soldiers continue to die, the US image is smudged, and domestic sentiment shifts more than it already has. So the Bush administration is truly stuck and it appears that they lost big time. In fact they lost a lot of power in the Middle East due to Iraq.

Moreover, Ayatollah Sistani's waiting game with the US has always been the most important element in all of this. If it is clear that the United States is needed less and that the Sunnis are reigning in on the insurgency and wish to negotiate and reach a common pact, then he needs the Americans less. Furthermore, the more Sistani believes he no longer needs the United States in fighting off the insurgency, then a stronger push for an American withdrawal and a more involved role in sharia in life will be seen. In other words the sort of things that will annoy Americans will come to the fore. However, the more violence continues, the more the Shi'a leadership feels its under siege and can not survive without American support against the Wahabbi and Baathist insurgency, then the Shi’a are going to display a more conciliatory tone. So essentially there is a very strange dynamic here. The true intentions of the main parties are unknown until all sides believe they can survive without a foreign presence.

Moreover, there is a real tension between the Bush administration and the United Iraqi Alliance [90] list that appears to have won the plurality and majority of votes in the recent parliamentary elections. The tension lies in the fact that Bush has strong monetary interests in Iraq, making sure America gets lion share of military contracts, controls and manages flow of oil, and yet the main political party UAI is pledging to write off Iraq’s debts, cancel reparations, establish economic developments projects, and expand the public sector all from oil revenue. It also appears that the United States long term goal to replace Saudi Arabia with another country in the region where they could have a much bigger presence than they did in Saudi, to surround Iran and just like Eastern European countries joined NATO, have Iraq join and purchase billions of dollars in arms once their military is modernized, has been sidelined or even worse put to rest.




[1] Turkey is officially a secular state. However, Turkey’s current Prime Minister Erdogan who won in elections in 2002 belongs to the Justice and Development Party, which is an Islamist party.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Qaida

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wahhabism

[4] Id.

[5] Linda Waldbridge, The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid (Oxford Press 2001). Pg. 249

[6] Id. 248

[7] http://www.baghdadmuseum.org/dq02.htm

[8] See generally, Noah Feldman, After Jihad: America and the struggle for Islamic Democracy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

9  http://www3.baylor.edu/Church_State/edit2.htm


[10] “French "charte" is treated as if based on Arabic root SH-R-T, meaning "condition"; "mashruteh" turns into Persian "mashrutiyyat" which looks like it means "conditioned", i.e. conditioned by Islamic law” (http://www.unc.edu/courses/2003fall/reli/173/001/mottahedeh.html)

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Turk

[12] The Middle East and Islamic World Reader (Marvin Gettleman (Grove Press 2003). Pg 69

[13] Id. At 98

[14] Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse, Mansoor Moaddel (University of Chicago Press, 2005) pg. 186

[15] Id. At 268

[16] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demise_of_the_Ottoman_Caliphate

[17] Id.

[18] The Middle East and Islamic World Reader (Marvin Gettleman (Grove Press 2003). Pg 104

[19] http://www.ataturksociety.org/asa/ataturk/10thyear.html

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Brotherhood

[23] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hizb_ut-Tahrir

[24] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaat-e-Islami

[25] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Dawa_Party

[26] The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Falah Jabar (Saqi, 2003) pg. 51

[27] Id.

[28] http://countrystudies.us/iran/101.htm

[29] Ideology defined as a “collection of ideas”

[30] The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, Charles Kurzman (Harvard Press, 2004) pg. 150

[31] Sharia is Arabic word for Islamic law

[32] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia

[33] Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declaration of Imam Khomeini, Ruhollah Khomeini (Mizan Press, 1981)

[34] Id.

[35] The Future of Iraq: Dictatorship, Democracy, or Division?, Liam Anderson & Gareth Stansfield  (Palgrave Macmillan 2004) pg. 14

[36] Id.

[37] Kurd is an ethnicity, while Sunni is religious identity. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

[38] The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Falah Jabar (Saqi, 2003) pg. 75

[39] Id. at 70

[40] The Islamic Movement of Iraqi Shi’a, Joyce N. Wiley (Lynne Rienner Publishers 1992), pg. 23

[41] Id. at 52

[42] Literature included various political weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, publishes in Tehran, Damascus, London and other locations: al-Jihad, al-Dawa al Islamiya, al-Amal al-Islami, al-Badil al-Islami, Tariq al-Thawra, Liwa al Sadr, and others. Quarterlies such as al-Jihad and Majalat Dirasat wa Buhuth are good sources of ideological issues. Volumes of Al-Dawa party’s documents can be found in Thaqafat al-Dawa

[43] The Islamic Movement of Iraqi Shi’a, Joyce N. Wiley (Lynne Rienner Publishers 1992), pg. 112

[44] Id. at 127

[45] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khums “Khums is a Shi'a article of faith that refers to a one-fifth tax, which all adult Muslims who are financially secure and have surplus in their income normally have to pay on annual savings, net commercial profits, and all moveable and immovable property which is not commensurable with the needs and status of the person.”

[46] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakat  Zakat is an alms-giving tax

[47] http://www.alazhar.org/

[48] The Islamic Movement of Iraqi Shi’a, Joyce N. Wiley (Lynne Rienner Publishers 1992), pg. 132

[49] Id. at 134

[50] Id.

[51] The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Falah Jabar (Saqi, 2003) pg. 202

[52] Id. at 204

[53] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Dawa_Party

[54] Arabic word for impermissible / sinful

[55] http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Cyprus/8613/biogh.html

[56] The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Falah Jabar (Saqi, 2003) pg. 18

[57] Id.

[58] http://www.sciri.btinternet.co.uk/English/About_Us/Badr/badr.html

[59] The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Falah Jabar (Saqi, 2003) pg. 32

[60] Arabic for “God is Great”

[61] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War

[62] Sadr I was Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, Sadr II is Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr

[63] The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Falah Jabar (Saqi, 2003) pg. 273

[64] Id.

[65] Id. at 25

[66] NPR interview in February, 2003

[67] Juan Cole “Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq,” in Middle East Report Online, April 22, 2003

[68] Ehsan Ahrari, Sistani begins his true agenda, Asia Times Online (February 8, 2005)  http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GB08Ak01.html

[69] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shi%27a

[70] Authority and Political Culture in Shiism (Albarny, 1988), pg. 98

[71] Id. at 123

[72] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali_al-Sistani

[73] Kevin Whitelaw, Deal Maker, Deal Breaker, US News Online (January 26, 2004)  http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/040126/26iraq.htm

[74] Hamza Hendawi, Iraqi Shiites demand elections in peaceful protest, Associated Press (January 19, 2004)

[75] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Top Cleric Brokers Deal to End Battle (Washington Post Foreign Service (August 27, 2004) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34370-2004Aug26.html

[76] Iraq Looks to U.N. on Elections, CBS News (January 21, 2004) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/22/iraq/main595046.shtml

[77] Ibraham al-Marashi “Boycotts, Coalitions, and the Threat of Violence: The Run-Up to  the January 2005, Iraqi elections” in Middle East Review of International Affairs, January, 2005


[78] Sami Moubayed,  Coming to terms with Sistani, Asia Times Online (February 10, 2005)  http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GB10Ak02.html

[79] http://www.cfr.org/publication/8625/islamic_law_expert_lombardi.html?breadcrumb=default

[80] Literally meaning "those who face death" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peshmerga

[81] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badr_Brigade

[82] Michael Howard  “Iraqi Kurds reject coalition's call to disband militia,” February 18, 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/The_Kurds/Story/0,2763,1150365,00.html

[83]Gulf Cooperation Council is a regional organization involving the six Persian Gulf Arab States” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Cooperation_Council

[84] Louis J. Cantori and Augustus Richard Norton, “Evaluating the Bush Menu for Change in the Middle East” in Middle East Policy,  March 2005

[85] Id.

[86] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurds

[87] Id.

[88] http://flonnet.com/fl2205/stories/20050311003600400.htm

[89] Mahan Abedin, Badr’s spreading web, Asia Times Online (December 10, 2005)  http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GL10Ak01.html


[90] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Iraqi_Alliance