11 May 2003

damn, I'm agreeing with Friedman
From Friedman's attempt to channel Saddam:

When you broke my army, you broke the most important secular institution in the country, and the clerics are rushing to fill the void. Some are OK, and some are bad news.

Since the Shiites make up 60 per cent of Iraq, if you're going to let the people here rule, that means the most important question for you is: Who dominates the Iraqi Shiite community? Not only is the future of Iraq at stake in the answer, but also, to some extent, the future of Iran.

How so? Remember, the real academic and spiritual centre of Shiism is the Iraqi town of Najaf, not the Iranian city of Qom. Qom is a backwater that became religiously important only because I crushed my Shiites, while Khomeini created a Shiite theocracy in Iran.

Most Iraqi Shiite spiritual leaders in Najaf have long opposed Khomeini's notion that Shiite clerics should be in power. They think this has corrupted the clergy in Iran, angered the people and driven young Shiites away from their religion.

You've now set off a fight for control of Najaf, between those Iraqi Shiite leaders who believe in the separation between mosque and state, and the pro-Iranian clerics who want to run Iraq Khomeini style.

That's why the Iranians are so concerned about what's happening here. They know if Najaf re-emerges as the centre of Shiism - and if it's dominated by Iraqi ayatollahs who don't believe that the clergy should be in politics - the claim of the Iranian clergy to remain in power will be weakened.

This is the most important power struggle in the Middle East today. For now, the Iraqi Shiite clergy in Najaf are weak. They don't have many senior clerics. I kept it that way. But you can't just install your own Iraqi Shiite leaders. They will have to emerge on their own.

You need to create the conditions in Najaf whereby students can come back and the natural Iraqi-Arab Shiite traditions can flower again to counter the Iranians.

Now a sensible adviser might say to Bush: 'The Shi'ites have divisions and if the Iraqi Shi'ite clergy increase their power that will weaken the Iranian Shi'ite theocrats.' Sadly, such an adviser would probably be accused of being French.

No comments: