[Marxism] Re: Sistani in Basra, heads for Najaf

Suresh borhyaenid at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 25 12:18:44 MDT 2004

This argument is undermined by the fact that the Grand
Ayatollah Ali Sistani sought medical treatment in the
UK, the co-occupier of the country. There are reports
that he specifically turned down a similar offer by
Iran,  telling them to stay out of Iraq's business.
Really, Sistani's pose of neutrality, that encompasses
going on pilgrimages to the imperialist homeland, is
wearing thin. But your point about the base of his
support being much wider, and extending to merchants,
professionals, and businessmen is probably correct, as
is suggested in this Reuters piece: 

What interests me is why it is that significant
elements in the Shiite population remain more
sympathetic somehow of the interim regime and even the
U.S. occupation than of Sadr's ragtag army. In article
after article in the Western press, you'll come across
quotes from Iraqi petty-bourgeois types in Najaf,
wringing their hands over these rouges and outside
elements that have installed themselves in Ali's
shrine. In the article referenced above, for example,
we have this commentary, which is typical:

"Shi'ite scholar Ali al-Ubudi said Sadr's
anti-occupation message was a powerful one, but did
not enjoy support from the establishment and merchant

Businessmen say Sadr has hurt his own cause by letting
his followers attack infrastructure such as oil

"Moqtada does not realize that there is a smarter
method to defeat the occupation. We let the Americans
help us rebuild -- then worry about throwing them
out," said an Iraqi contractor. 

The Iraq war helped Sadr's rise. In the chaos
following the fall of Saddam, Sadr galvanized a group
of radical clerics, seeing his chance to carve out his
own power base in postwar Iraq by challenging the
existing order. 

Among his aides is Mohammad Yacoubi, a graduate of the
Najaf seminaries who has tried to limit the influence
of the established hierarchy, most of whose members
were born in neighboring Iran. Another highly-educated
aide is Ali al-Sumeisem, a student of Ali Baghdadi, a
critic of Sistani. 

Sistani and other elders control cash. Sadr is wanted
by U.S.-backed Iraqi authorities in connection with
the murder last year of moderate cleric Abdul Majid
al-Khoei, son of Ayatollah Mohammad Abu al-Qassim
Khoei, whose London-based organization controls the
bulk of Shi'ite religious finances. 

Sadr denies the charges. 

He has consolidated his support among downtrodden
Shi'ites by cultivating a closer group of aides who
come from the slums of Baghdad and other cities.

Mirroring a strategy adopted by his father, who wooed
the poor through sermons and charities, he has sought
to provide a voice for Shi'ites who feel they have
been ignored by the political establishment for

I suspect that this sort of attitude is in fact
long-standing, and may help explain why it is that the
Shiite majority of roughly 60% of the population has
remained out of power in the country. For all the talk
among the pundits and experts of ethnic divisions in
Iraq, it may be that class conflicts are even more

In this, I can't help but make the standard left
analogies to the depredations of Nazi Germany. In the
France of 1940, after the shock of defeat, the
decision made in the highest levels of society was
essentially that an order accompanied by subservience
to Germany was preferable to disorder and threat of
revolution that would be the counterpart to a national
struggle. This entailed placing Marshall Petain as the
Bonapartist or sub-fascist head of a mini-state in the
unoccupied portion of the country and collaborating
with the Nazis. The clerical establishment in Iraq is
playing the same role its Catholic counterpart did in
Vichy France, which determined that their hatred of
the irreligious Third Republic and the Popular Front
and their fear of socialism ought to take precedence
over other nagging political and moral questions. 

By no stretch of the imagination are the Sadrists a
proletarian or socialist movement, but I suspect it
may be that similar considerations may apply in Iraq
today. We might also be able to draw parallels here
with the conflict between the Khomeinist regime in
Iran and the People's Mujahadeen (MEK), at least
before the latter group dropped its ideological
baggage and became a willing Western proxy. Muqtada
al-Sadr's base in the slums of Baghdad is, as I
understand it, a non-indigenous population. These
Shiites are descended from economic migrants
originally from the south of the country, who now find
themselves largely unemployed. It would appear that in
the Shiite base in the lower part of the country from
Najaf to Basra, or thereabouts, the native religious
and business establishments maintain their control and
ideological hegemony, but for the transplanted Shiite
populations of central Iraq, the situation is more
fluid. Might it be that Sistani, SCIRI, and the Badr
Brigades, are willing to accept an iron hand from
abroad however reluctantly, rather than a Shiite
rebellion of the poor? In France it took time and the
turning of fortunes for Germany, the failure of the
invasion of Britain, and American entry into the war,
to make the resistance into a formidable force, and
for De Gaulle to find significant support among the
French bourgeoisie. It may be that the U.S. will need
to suffer even greater setbacks, so that the
occupation's position appears unmistakably untenable,
for the whole of Iraqi society to throw itself against
the armed intervention.

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