Sistani's true agenda in Iraq
By Ehsan Ahrari
Global Beat Syndicate
ALEXANDRIA, Va--As expected, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) is emerging as the dominant party, making its chief mentor and spiritual adviser, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the clear winner of the Iraqi elections of January 30. Only President George W. Bush and his tight-lipped advisers know whether this is the beginning of a long U.S. nightmare in Iraq. Sistani never had any doubts about what he wanted: use the much-cherished democracy of the U.S. invaders to enable his people - the Shi'ites - to become governors of Iraq after years of being marginalized by the minority Sunnis.
The biggest question is how Islamic the emerging Iraqi government is likely to be.
The United States may not have any problem with Islam as a religion; there is no doubt, however, that the entire notion of "Islamic government" has never been an acceptable proposition in Washington. That was true in Afghanistan after the dismantlement of the Taliban regime, and it has been true in Iraq. U.S. presidents, starting with Jimmy Carter, know only too well how chaotic a system can be when it is created under the rubric of "Islamic government."
Leading Shi'ite clerics in Iraq are reportedly "pushing for Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution." Such a proposal is in stark contrast to the transitional law the United States enacted before installing the Iraqi interim government headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi last June. But the Shi'ite clerics are now advocating for Islam to be acknowledged as "the underpinning of the government" and demanding that the Americans "stay away from the writing of the constitution."
Even if a "theocracy" is not established in Iraq in the immediate future, a close semblance of it seems to be very much in the cards. The United States has never understood the significance of Islam to a Muslim country. Believing that the adage "render unto Caesar" what is Caesar's and "unto God" what is God's is--or should be--applicable to the entire world, U.S. politicians have been on a global (secular) crusade to transform the world in the image of America. They do not understand that such a proposition is not just alien to the Islamic world--most established governments have constantly rejected it. Nonetheless, the establishment of secular government worldwide has emerged as America's new crusade in the post-9/11 world. Or at least that is what Mr. Bush wants the world to believe during his second term.
Prior to the Iraqi elections, Sistani issued a religious decree exhorting Shi'ites to vote as a religious obligation. Without doubt, he and other grand ayatollahs will demonstrate the same unequivocal and unambiguous resolve to create a government in which Islam maintains a powerful presence. It will be a quintessentially Iraqi model, but an Islamic model nonetheless. In all likelihood the marjaiah would insist that "no laws passed by the state contradict a basic understanding of sharia [Koranic law] as laid out in the Koran." Thus, the issue of equal treatment of women will have to be resolved through public debates, and by arriving at a new interpretation of Islam by Iraqi Muslims, not through the "enlightened" insistence of Washington.
The Bush administration is also watching Muqtada al-Sadr , who wants Islam enshrined as the national religion and sharia recognized as the new law of the state. Muqtada's followers have been distributing a pamphlet that Muqtada's mentor, Ayatollah Khadim Hussein al-Haeri, wrote awhile back. It says, "The infidel coalition forces want to make a constitution for our dear Iraq and carry out their infidel agenda through the current government. This is the most dangerous thing for Iraq and Islam. They want to change our identity, habits, morals and Islamic way of life."
The Bush administration wanted Iraq to become a democracy. It has indeed started its march in that direction. But a democratic Iraq is unlikely to be anyone's puppet. It is likely to reflect the will of its people, but it will be a long time before a clear picture of the "will" of its people will finally crystallize. Even with all the uncertainties about Iraq, we can be certain of one thing: a democratic Iraq as it is emerging--at least for now--is not something even Mr. Bush preferred.