[Marxism] Shiite divisions

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 19 06:46:43 MDT 2006


At Heart of Iraqi Impasse, a Family Feud
Militia-Backed Shiite Factions Vie for Political Dominance

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 19, 2006; A01

NAJAF, Iraq -- On one side of the grinding political deadlock over who 
should lead Iraq's next government is a plain-spoken cleric with the puffed 
cheeks and patchy beard of youth, a fiery icon of the downtrodden with an 
exalted family name: al-Sadr.

On the other is a wizened mullah from the clerical old guard, whose 
al-Hakim clan founded Iraq's largest political party and whose scholarly 
air belies a reputation for ruthlessness.

Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim head the two leading dynasties of 
Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, whose spiritual home is this ancient 
southern city. They operate the country's two largest Shiite militias -- 
the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade, respectively -- each with more than 
10,000 men under arms. And they are heirs to rival movements that for 
generations have competed, sometimes violently, for supremacy in the hearts 
and minds of their long-persecuted people.

The two men are now on opposing sides of the dispute over whether Ibrahim 
al-Jafari should retain his post as prime minister. The impasse remains 
unresolved despite months of negotiation and intense U.S. pressure, and 
hinges not only on myriad political factors but on the two clerics' family 
feud.

"Iraqi clerical Shiism tends to run in families and has for a long time," 
said Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor and expert on Shiite 
Islam. "Throughout the 20th century the Sadr and Hakim families have been 
maybe the most prominent examples and have vied for influence. Here they 
are again."

Their divergent politics mean the dispute over the prime minister's post 
has wide-ranging and complex implications for the future of Iraq, and for 
the U.S. presence here.

The coalition of Shiite parties that won the most votes in Iraq's Dec. 15 
elections has nearly fractured over its choice of Jafari as nominee for 
prime minister. Sadr, whose political allies control about 30 seats in the 
new legislature, has lined up behind Jafari, believing him more likely to 
push the Americans to depart Iraq soon. Hakim's Supreme Council for the 
Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which also holds about 30 seats, has been 
working to install its own candidate, Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Despite being groomed for decades by the government of Iran, Hakim has 
largely embraced the United States since the 2003 invasion and has profited 
from it. His Supreme Council party works closely with U.S. Ambassador 
Zalmay Khalilzad and controls several ministries in Iraq's lame-duck 
transitional government.

Sadr, meanwhile, has battled the U.S. presence. In 2003, an Iraqi judge 
issued a murder warrant for Sadr in connection with the killing in Najaf of 
a rival cleric with ties to the United States. Two years ago, his Mahdi 
Army militiamen fought U.S. forces here and in Baghdad. U.S. diplomats and 
commanders say they number Sadr and his militia among the gravest threats 
to Iraq's security, and none has met with him directly.

"We will never negotiate under occupation," said Sayyid Riyadh Nouri, who 
heads Sadr's political committee and is married to the cleric's sister. "We 
do not participate with people who violate our democracy."

Sadr and his followers paint the Supreme Council as a foreign movement; its 
founders were exiled in Iran when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq. In a rare 
interview with a Washington Post reporter soon after Baghdad fell three 
years ago, Sadr said Iraq should be governed by those who did not flee 
Hussein's rule. He also has been critical of clerics who remained in Iraq 
but suffered Hussein's oppression silently.

"The difference is simple: The Hakim family decided to get out of Iraq to 
fight the former regime, while the Sadr family stayed inside and openly 
defied Saddam," said Sahib al-Amiry, head of the Sadr-run God's Martyr 
Foundation. He denied frequent reports that Sadr also receives substantial 
support from Iran. "Our only relationship with Iran is as a neighbor," he said.

Both Sadr and Hakim owe their strength to a mix of religious legitimacy and 
impeccable bloodlines. Both wear the black turban that signifies their 
status as putative descendants of the prophet Muhammad.

Sadr lost brothers, an uncle and his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq 
al-Sadr, at the hands of Hussein's Sunni-dominated security forces. Hakim 
says more than 60 family members were killed in recent decades -- including 
his brother, former Supreme Council leader Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, who was 
obliterated by a car bomb outside Najaf's Imam Ali shrine in 2003. In the 
past half-century, members of both families have held the revered rank of 
grand ayatollah, the top position in Najaf's Shiite religious hierarchy.

"There is a great role for these families in the history of Shiite Iraq 
because of the stands they have taken for the people and the price they 
have paid," Amar al-Hakim, 36, said in an interview in an office across the 
street from a large shrine commemorating the killing of his uncle, Mohammed 
Bakir al-Hakim.

Leaders in both camps are quick to point out that stereotypes of the two 
Shiite factions have not always held true. While Sadr and his father were 
heroes to Iraq's working class, Sadr's grandfather was known for his 
religious scholarship. The two families are also intertwined by marriage: 
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's wife is a cousin of Moqtada al-Sadr.

The dispute over Jafari "is not really about families. It is about 
different ideas for Iraq," said Amar Hakim, citing the Supreme Council's 
push to form an autonomous state in mostly Shiite southern Iraq. Sadr's 
followers fear such a move would split the country apart.

While his bloodlines are unquestioned, Sadr, in his early thirties, lacks 
the seminary training and polish of a top cleric. He draws followers from 
the Shiite underclass, whose speech patterns are echoed in his own. His 
base is concentrated in the teeming Baghdad slum of Sadr City, named for 
his father, where up to 10 percent of Iraq's population lives. His main 
mosque is in Kufa, a poorer city adjoining Najaf.

Following the model of the Lebanese party and guerrilla movement Hezbollah, 
Sadr has won support by catering to the needy and maintaining a force of 
men with guns. His satellite offices across the country have become first 
stops for Shiites evicted from their neighborhoods in mounting sectarian 
violence.

In Kufa last week, members of his God's Martyr Foundation were operating a 
squalid halfway house for displaced Shiites in an abandoned hotel, 
providing protection and doling out food to 51 families.

"We are all here under his protection," said Iptihal Abbas, who arrived 
with four children of male family members who were killed by gunmen in the 
Shiite town of Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. "Everyone else 
ignored us, including the government and the Americans."

While also operating charitable organizations, the Supreme Council is a 
more modern political movement, with a satellite television channel and an 
unmatched grass-roots organization and cultural programs overseen by Amar 
Hakim, who made a widely publicized visit to the United States last year.

"We have 80 offices from Basra to Sulaymaniyah," he said. "We have 1,000 
mosques in Iraq and 5,000 clergymen linked to us. We have 1,500 women 
activists. We have educational foundations, schools and charities."

The marjiya , a council of senior Shiite clerics based in Najaf, has urged 
the two sides to mend the rift that has dominated Iraqi politics since the 
U.S. invasion. And on Tuesday, a senior aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali 
Sistani, the most influential cleric in Iraq, said patience with Shiite 
politicians was wearing thin.

"The ones harmed by this delay are the Iraqi people. . . . The Green Zone 
is soothing, and the Iraqi street is another thing," said the aide, Ahmed 
al-Safi, referring to the fortified section of Baghdad that houses the 
Iraqi and American military leaderships. "When the marjiya order or give 
signals, you should understand it. The marjiya might be forced to be 
involved more. The marjiya have made it clear on several occasions the 
importance of speeding up the formation of a government."

But concern is mounting across southern Iraq that if Jafari is pushed 
aside, the Mahdi Army will occupy the streets. Last August, after Sadr's 
Najaf office was burned by a mob, his followers blamed the Supreme 
Council's Badr Brigade. The next day, the Mahdi Army attacked Badr offices 
across the south before Sadr and Hakim called for calm. Both sides have in 
recent days asked supporters to maintain order regardless of who is named 
prime minister, but aides have said they would not rule out armed unrest.

"It is not our official policy," said Amiry, of the Sadr foundation. "But 
maybe some people will express their stance that way."

Special correspondents Saad Sarhan and Saad al-Izzi in Najaf contributed to 
this report.

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