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Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Shi'ites play it cool for the long term over Iraq governance

Via Daniel Drezner, an interesting piece (PDF) by Adeed Dawisha, a professor at Miami University, Ohio [1] takes a useful overview under the title Iraq: Setbacks, Advances, Prospects.

Mindful of the self-denying ordinance round here on dabbling in jury questions for which direct evidence is not available, I'd say it confirms my impression that the leadership of the Shia majority under the leadership of
the four marjas, ...Ali al-Sistani, Muhamed Ishaq Fayadh, Muhamed Said al-Hakim, and Bashir al-Najafi
have, in the English vernacular, played a blinder.

Clearly, their object is to get foreign forces to vacate the country in such a way as to leave them in charge of their own fate, by dint of the operation of majority rule.

One requirement is an exit strategy for USG - something that US planners seem not to have planned for that carefully! No quagmire, a genuine peace with honour.This clearly rules out any Shi'ite participation in the insurgency: which, given the earlier activities of firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr (the murder of moderate cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei was generally put down to Sadr's boys, I seem to recall), was not a foregone conclusion.

(The present insurgency, so long as it gets no worse, would not, perhaps, be wholly unwelcome, in that it gives an incentive to USG not to hang around indefinitely. It would, I suspect, be somewhere from improbable to absurd to suggest that the Shia leaders are calibrating the insurgency with this in mind, though!)

Another, as Dawisha points out, is that
The Shi'ites, who make up as much as 60 percent of the population, also feel that it is in their own best interest to wait until their majority status is confirmed by a census (Iraq has not had one nationwide since 1987)

The general administrative difficulties in arranging a census which will stand up to scrutiny (as well as yield the right result) would suggest it is going to require a deal of organising.

And, the Shia leadership are making all the right noises about democracy - as I understand it, there is no love lost between Iraqi and Iranian Shia leaders, and no desire to ape the form of clerical government in Iran - polling evidence, as quoted by Dawisha (p14a), showed only a small minority of respondents wanted that either.

My hypothesis would be that these moderate positions do not in any way belie Shia intention to control their own destiny (not necessarily the whole of Iraqi territory as it now is), but rather are earnests of the seriousness of their intentions and abilities in that regard.

One might make a tentative analogy with the Indian National Congress and its actions to secure independence from Britain: several times, action taken by the INC threatened seriously to destabilise British rule in India, but, in each case, Congress stepped back. Suggestions of internal splits, the weakness of Gandhi's tactical skills as a leader, and the like are made to explain these reverses. Equally likely, perhaps, is that Congress wished to inherent a viable nation with its administrative infrastructure intact, and with no more militant body (the Communists, for instance) in a position to usurp its place as successors-in-title to the British. General anarchy or a nationwide revolt would have left them (at best) as proud owners of a junk shop [2].

So I would not assume that the relative passivity of the Shia leadership will continue indefinitely; nor infer from the absence of precipitate action, political or military, by the Shia immediately following the exit of US forces any corresponding absence of will to take command of the situation.

A Wilsonian like Paul Wolfowitz would appreciate a natural desire for Shia self-determination - in the form not of crude nationalism, but a genuine autonomy of Iraqi Shia over their own lives.

And there it seems to me the Shia leadership may feel that Western models of democracy - Dawisha touches on questions of voting systems and division of powers between a president and prime minister - fail to meet Shia requirements every bit as much as the Iranian clerical model.

  1. In the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Democracy - apparently up to Volume 15!

  2. The Moslem-Hindu civil war around the time of Partition had much the same effect - but largely limited to particular areas such as the Punjab.

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