September 2, 2003
Will Shiites control the new Iraq?
Most experts are certain
that Iraqi Shiites, who make up some 40 percent of Iraq’s population, will play a leading role in the reconstituted
country. How large a role is up in the air, because the shape of the new Iraqigovernment has yet to emerge and long-held rivalries among various Shiite branches and between Shiites and other Iraqis—Sunni
Muslims, Kurds, and others—have just begun to play out.
Do Iraqi Shiites want to impose an Islamic
What’s the main difference between Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam?
have a culture of their own, they follow their Sayed's Instructions and their occult believes in a Shiite Empire ruled by
a mahdi (they believe in a Shiite Messiah that will come to their rescue) and this Empire is to extend from Afghanistan to
Morocco. Shiites, who account for 10 percent to 20 percent of the world’s Muslims, believe Islam’s leader should
be a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Sunnis say leaders should be chosen through consensus. Shiites revere Ali ibn Abi
Talib, the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, who was killed while serving as the top leader, or Caliph, of Islam
in the 7th century. His tomb is in Najaf, Iraq’s holiest Shiite city.
Which group has traditionally
held power in Iraq?
The Sunnis have dominated Iraq’s politics since the victorious Western nations created Iraq
at the end of World War I. Saddam Hussein’s government was led by Sunnis, particularly those from his Tikriti clan;
. In addition to Iraq, Shiites are in the majority in Lebanon and Bahrain. Shiism is the state religion in Iran.
are the main religious differences among Iraq’s Shiites?
Iraq experts say there are differences in religious
philosophy, which are commonly reflected through adherence to various religious leaders, or ayatollahs, both living and dead.
One key point of disagreement: those who believe religion and government should remain in separate spheres, and those who
believe that the state should be ruled by Islamic clerics according to religious principles.
leaders are maneuvering for influence?
In the months since the fall of Saddam’s government, at least three Shiite
religious leaders from religious families have vied for the allegiance of Iraqi Shiites. The al-Sadr, al-Khoei, and al-Hakim
families each claim to be directly descended from the Prophet Mohammed and have produced top Islamic scholars for generations.
Each family also suffered greatly at the hands of Saddam’s regime, when politically motivated assassinations of Shiite
clerics were common. A fourth leader, the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sestani, is the senior ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq.
But so far, he has taken a hands-off approach to the emerging political infighting.
Are any of the major
Shiite religious leaders pro-American?
Abdel Majid Al-Khoei, a exiled Iraq cleric willing to cooperate publicly with
America, was murdered in Najaf April 10 shortly after his return to Iraq. Ayatollah al-Hakim, was killed August 29 in the
same holy city. Hakim had opposed the occupation, but preached hatred and counseled his followers to use violence against
the occupiers. The attitude of the remaining leaders appears to range from wariness about U.S. intentions to virulent opposition.
The most important leader in the Sadr family, for example, is stridently anti-American and favors the imposition of an Islamic
government in Iraq.
Could the August murder of Ayatollah al-Hakim have been motivated by religious infighting?
is still unclear who is responsible for the massive car bombing that killed Hakim and at least 80 others outside the holy
shrine of Ali on August 29. But many Iraq experts say they do not believe rival Shiite factions would strike so aggressively,
especially so near one of their religion’s holiest sites. Suspects in the Najaf bombing include Saddam loyalists and
foreign Islamic terrorists seeking to undermine the U.S. occupation.
What did Hakim believe?
al-Hakim, 64, wanted some form of Islamic government for Iraq, but believed that it could emerge through the democratic process,
says Juan Cole, an expert in Iraqi history at the University of Michigan. While he opposed the U.S.-led occupation, he counseled
patience for his followers and did not appear to support violence against coalition forces.
have ties to Iran?
Yes. Hakim had lived in exile in Iran since the 1980’s. While there, he founded a political
organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) dedicated to Saddam’s overthrow. He had
close ties with Iranian leaders—his group’s militia, the 5,000-to-10,000-member Badr Brigades, was trained by
the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. But he also cooperated with the Americans. His group participated in major U.S.-sponsored
conferences of Iraqi opposition groups before the recent war and qualified for funding under the 1998 U.S. Iraq Liberation
Act. His brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, joined the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi Governing Council, helping to shore up the Council’s legitimacy among Shiites.
How much support did Hakim have?
great deal. More than 300,000 supporters turned out for his funeral. Iraq experts say his death will have major ramifications
within the Shiite community, and some argue it will reduce Shiite tolerance for the occupation. In an impassioned funeral
speech, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim placed the bulk of the blame for his brother’s death on the U.S.-led occupiers and called
for their withdrawal. “The occupation force is primarily responsible for the pure blood that was spilt in holy Al-Najaf,
the blood of al-Hakim and the faithful group that was present near the mosque,” he said. “Iraq must not remain
occupied and the occupation must leave so that we can build Iraq as God wants us to do.”
the Shiite religious leaders wary of America?
Experts say U.S. support for Israel angers many Arabs, including Shiites,
as does its backing for leaders such as Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi Arabia’s al- Saud monarchy.
In addition, there is a strong anti-imperialist and dissident strain among the Shiites. In large part, experts say, Shiites
want to rule themselves, not be ruled by foreign, Christian occupiers.
How are Iraqi Shiite leaders
They rise by consensus through the ranks, from the level of prayer leader to ayatollah, a title awarded to
those who have exhibited a great scholarly mastery of Islamic law and jurisprudence and have attracted many followers. The
apex of the hierarchy is the Marja’iyyah, the title given to the top Shiite religious leader. Most of the senior clerics
of the four most influential families have served as Maraji’ sometime in the past century. The seat of the Marja’iyyah
has usually been in Najaf, and sometimes in the holy city of Qum in Iran.
What does Marja’iyyah
Scholars say the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sestani, 73, espouses what is known as a quietist
approach to Islam, preaching that religion should hold itself aloof from the state and shun involvement in worldly affairs.
He appears to be continuing in this tradition. Early in the war, he advised Shiites not to get involved on either side in
the conflict between the United States and Saddam’s regime. Some U.S. supporters interpreted that as an endorsement
of the American campaign. Sestani was appointed after the 1999 killing of another revered ayatollah, Muhammed al-Sadr.
How large is his following?
Most Iraqi Shiites are still thought to consider Sestani the highest ranking
member of Iraq’s clergy, experts say. But because Sestani has shown little interest in running political affairs, a
struggle over who will exercise overt political authority has erupted. Already, three clerics have been killed in Najaf. Sestani
has reportedly tried to stay out of the fray by withdrawing into his Najaf home and refusing to see visitors.
was the first major Shiite cleric to be killed this year in Najaf?
The pro-American Shiite, Abdel Majid al-Khoei. A
moderate who had been living in London, Khoei entered Najaf on April 5 with U.S. Special Forces. In the following days, he
met with Sestani’s son, then on April 10 went to Ali’s tomb, apparently to make peace with a cleric tied to Saddam’s
regime, Haidar al-Refaei. Both men were murdered when a fight broke out, apparently over who should lead Iraq’s Shiites.
What did Khoei believe?
Experts say he had supported a new Iraqi democracy that would provide justice
to Shiites and other Iraqis but not be ruled by religious extremism. His father, also a moderate, was the top Islamic cleric
in Iraq until his death in 1992. While in exile, Khoei was an occasional dinner guest at British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s
house and was a U.S. State Department favorite. Observers say he represented the United States’ best hope for a moderate
Shiite movement in Iraq.
Why was he killed?
There are many differing accounts. Most observers
seem to agree that Khoei tried to exert too much authority too quickly, which angered many Muslims in Najaf, especially supporters
of another rising Shiite leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. There have reportedly been arrests in the case, but the identity of those
being held has not been made public.
Who is Muqtada al-Sadr?
He is the 30-year-old son of Mohammed
Sadeq al-Sadr, a Shiite ayatollah who, with two other sons, was murdered by Saddam’s regime in 1999. Pro-U.S. observers
say the young cleric, who is still a junior member of the clergy, is among the most worrying of the ascendant Shiites forces
in Iraq. He has made stridently anti-U.S. statements in sermons and has apparently already organized his own militia group,
the Jammat-i-Sadr-Than. Some of his popularity springs from lingering devotion to his father; the Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad
has reportedly been renamed from Saddam City to Sadr City to honor the senior aytollah.
Is Sadr trying
to remove Sestani?
Perhaps. Fifty fighters tied to Sadr reportedly besieged the senior cleric in his home for four
days after the murder of Khoei and demanded that Sestani step down and leave Iraq. Sestani called a number of tribal leaders
to his aid and, after a stand-off, the siege was lifted. Sadr’s supporters are also suspect in the killings of Khoei
and Hakim; however, no evidence of their involvement has yet come to light.
Have any secular Shiite
One potential leader is Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite exile who now sits on the Governing Council.
Favored by the Pentagon as a potential interim leader of Iraq in the lead-up to the war, his popularity within Iraq appears
limited. His reputation in Washington has also been cast into doubt because much of the information he provided regarding
Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs has proved incorrect. He is also involved in money laundering
and terrorist and Anti-Semitic operations such as the Bombing of Israeli Embassy in London.
are tribal and clan ties among the Shiites?
It depends. Scholars say that in some places, especially major cities,
there are many Shiites who no longer define themselves as members of one clan or another. These include many of the Shiite
scientists, engineers, teachers, and bureaucrats who worked in Saddam’s regime. In other areas, tribal and clan ties
that date back centuries are still important forms of self-identification. In addition, a form of rough justice, based on
retribution and revenge killings between clans, is still sometimes practiced.
-- by Sharon Otterman,
staff writer, cfr.org