Direction of Iraq’s future gov’t worries U.S.

( – As both Shi’a and Sunni Muslim groups continue their protests, at times jointly, against U.S.-led occupation in Iraq, U.S. concerns are rising over the possibility of the formation of a theocracy–political Islamic rule–in post-war Iraq instead of the U.S. preferred democracy.

Some observers have said the demands of competing Iraqi Shi’a Muslim groups in the southern cities of Najaf, Kut, Kabala and the recent jointly-led protests in Baghdad of both Shi’a and Sunni Muslim groups for a U.S. departure seriously challenges U.S. efforts to insert a pro-Western democracy in the predominately Muslim nation.

Despite the vocal calls for the U.S. to leave, however, the leaders of Iraq’s main Shi’a communities are calling for peaceful opposition.


“For sure, in the beginning, our opposition to foreign occupation will be expressed by peaceful means,” said Sheikh Kaazem al-Nasari, the representative of the Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr community in Karbala. “The people have only small weapons. It’s nothing compared to the strength of the U.S. forces. If, at some point, peaceful means do not give results, we will decide what to do next.”

Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Karbalai, the representative of the Sayyed Ali Sistani community, said non-violent struggle against the Americans should only start after the setting up of a new government that should represent all communities.

“Our vision is that there should be a government in which all communities and ethnic groups are represented, that would act peacefully in order to secure the withdrawal of foreign forces as soon as possible,” he said.

The people’s choice

One U.S. observer said Iraq’s diverse population prevents the imposition of democracy from the outside.

“Any future Iraqi government, to one degree or another, would have to enjoy the consent of a very large number of Iraqis of various communities. That’s going to have to be a process that really cannot be imposed from the outside, at least not successfully over the long term,” said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East/North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

He said the occupying force of the U.S. and her partners, though seen as problematic to Iraqis, is not void of influence. Whatever influence they bring to bear, however, “has to basically jibe with a large number of Iraqis. And with a population of more than 60 percent Shi’as, we are talking about a number of communities,” he said. Iraq’s population is estimated at 25 million people.

“This is not about religion, it’s about the self-determination and the right of Iraqis to make their own choices,” said Phyllis Bennis, resident fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

“There is already great opposition to the idea of the U.S. government coming in and imposing its own people as the ostensible new leadership in the so-called free Iraq,” she said, further adding that she hopes theocracy in the region is not an option. “But after two wars and 13 years of crippling economic sanctions, people get desperate. Theocratic rule is inherently dangerous, whether it’s Christian, Muslim or Jewish.”

But Dr. Azza Karam, director of Women’s Division World Conference on Religion and Peace and author of the book, “Transnational Political Islam,” told The Final Call that a theocratic government should not be perceived as a threat and that the idea is often misrepresented in the West.

“The Western world is of the impression that theocracy is intractably connected to and equated to violence. That is not true. Theocracy means that whoever is ruling is ruling in the name of God. Yes, you have the potential for violence, but it does not automatically mean violent rule,” she said.

“It is not just the Shi’a community that will go for theocracy, especially in the context of the perception amongst many who are quite relieved in the breakup of the Saddam Hussein regime. There still is the widespread perception that America is an invading force. As long as that perception is there, the opportunities for a more politicized form of Islam will happen.” It is already happening, she says.

Critics who spoke with The Final Call about U.S. political objectives in Iraq all agree that very little traction exists among the Shi’a communities there, and that the situation will become increasingly worse before it gets better.

A pro-Israeli Iraqi?

The Bush administration’s decision to insert a retired pro-Israeli general and an exiled Iraqi leader as preferred choices in post-war reconstruction opens a Pandora’s box of problems for Western interests and a plethora of opportunity for those who call for a more political Islamic society.

Lieutenant-General Jay Garner has been tapped by the civil administration to head the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Weeks before the fall of Iraq’s Baath Party government, the United States returned Iraqi-exile opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi, along with 600 of his supporters, to Southern Iraq.

The key issue surrounding Mr. Chalabi is that of legitimacy. He has been outside of Iraq for 40 years. The move to insert Mr. Chalabi also preempts international assistance in determining leadership in post-conflict Iraq.

“They preempted the debate by creating facts on the ground, by having Jay Garner move into Iraq and airlifting Chalabi into Southern Iraq in the closing days of the war,” commented Chris Toesing, director of the Middle East Research and Information Project and editor of the Middle East Report in Washington. “The biggest problem with Chalabi is that he is relatively unknown in Iraq. He is not somebody with a domestic political constituency. And he is closely associated with not just the United States, but with a particular group of policy makers in Washington who have been the “attack Iraq caucus” for many years–the Iraqi National Congress. They did more than any group of exiles to drum up support in Washington for the war. That legacy, once it becomes known in Iraq, is unlikely to make him popular.”

“There still exists an Interpol warrant for his arrest in Jordan,” said Ms. Bennis.

In 1992, Mr. Chalabi was convicted of 31 charges of embezzlement and the misuse of funds while running the Petra Bank of Jordan. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison, but fled before sentencing. Mr. Chalabi says he was set up and framed by Saddam Hussein’s government.

Pipe dreams

“Chalabi has said that one of his roles is to re-establish a very warm relationship with Israel. It’s probably on that basis that the U.S. is involved in negotiations to re-open an old pipeline to connect to the state of Israel,” Ms. Bennis said.

She told The Final Call that the pipeline–located in Northern Iraq and running to Haifa on the northwest coast of Israel–came into existence during the British colonial period and prior to the establishment of Israel. It was shut down in 1948. It would “make (Israel) much less dependent on high-priced Russian oil, and it would serve to consolidate a strong economic relationship between Iraq and Israel.”

Mr. Garner is another potential eyesore to the region. His relationship with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a pro-Israeli group within the U.S., supports Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the occupation of Palestine.

“Jay Garner’s association with the JISNA group is a matter of record; it’s very strongly Pro-Likud,” said Mr. Stork. “To what extent that reflects his approach to Iraq, I am not sure.”

Dr. Karam said America’s opposition to UN intervention in post-war Iraq is a mistake.

“There is strong advocacy for the United Nations to play a role in the post conflict. Why? Because it would do what it did in East Timor and elsewhere. It would go to the society and help the local people set up an interim administration and then have elections. They would then have elections, put their own people in power and live with their choice. This would make it a lot easier for America or any other power,” she said.

Then, she said, the elected choice would not be seen as a stooge of the U.S. or a stooge of Britain.