Iraqi “Madridistas” Defy Terrorism

by Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

balad-attack-4I  used to have a hard-time understanding the strong identification of Iraqis with a soccer club such as Real Madrid, which is a continent apart in geography and a galaxy away from Iraqi daily living conditions.  Well, certain things involve much more than what meets the eyes.

On Friday, 13 May 2016, a group of Real Madrid fans gathered in Balad, a small Iraqi town in Salahuddin Province, a predominantly Shia city the Ba’th Party carved out of Baghdad in the 1970s, along with other territories taken out of other provinces, to create a new province with Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, as its provincial capital.  The city later became the scene of a great crime against humanity for which Saddam was tried and executed.

A group of gunmen entered the café, where the unarmed Madridistas were enjoying their team’s game, and executed at least 13 of them in cold blood.  The news reached the soccer club and the response was heartwarming: Real Madrid’s players stood in the middle of the field, wearing black armbands to commemorate their Iraqi fans.

Real Madrid went all the way to the UEFA Champions League final and won their historic 11th trophy.  Once again, the President of Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez, followed up with another unique show of solidarity with the Iraqi victims of terrorism, telling the media:

“In moments as emotional as this I would like to dedicate this win to our fans in Iraq, who show the true values of madridismo”.

This intercontinental reciprocal loyalty shed light on an extraordinary relation between the greatest stars of European soccer, who enjoy all life has to offer, and their fans whose greatest aspiration is to be left alone to watch a soccer game on television in a country that lacks what the rest of the world takes for granted.

Real Madrid won more than the European Champions League’s tournament yesterday, they earned the respect from all peace-loving people around the globe.  They proved that the relation between their players and their fans is not just about the appreciation of a good game, or a concocted one-way identification, but a true personal connection.

From “We Lost Our Voices” To “We Appeal To Allah”: The Marja’iya Concedes

By Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

SistaniThe general view is that the Shia highest authority in Iraq (the Marja’iya in Najaf) is the most powerful player in Iraqi politics.  Not any more, at least in the last months!  In this article, I will examine the limits of what Grand Ayatollah Sistani can and cannot do, at the risk of making some people unhappy with my assessment of the current dynamics of intra-Shia relations.

I start with a frank, but disturbing, observation of the current Shia political scene. The plight of the Marja’iya in Iraq is caused by the control of three political blocs on the Shia political representation, and none of them recognizes Grand Ayatollah Sistani as its leader.

The Dawa Party is a political group fashioned after the Muslim Brotherhood, and many of its founding leaders had working relations with the Egyptian group and admired its founder Hassan Al-Banna and other subsequent leaders.  In its political philosophy, the Dawa Party views itself the only qualified Shia leadership, while the Marja’iya is the source of pure religious and spiritual affairs.  Some of the Dawa founders had no reluctance to deceive the Marja’iya for political ends, an act not done by anyone with minimum reverence for the institution and its leader, whom the Shia regards as the deputy of the Twelfth Imam.  A clear example of such deception is what Sayid Talib Al-Rifa’i, one the Dawa founders,  recalled in a recent interview.  He convinced Grand Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim (d. 1970) to send a telegram to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser asking him to commute the death sentence of Sayyid Qutb, the extremist leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.  برقية محسن الحكيمOn their way to the post office, a certain Sayid Jamal al-Hashimi, who accompanied them, objected to the act and brought to their attention that Sayyid Qutb accused the first Shia Imam, Ali b. Abi Talib, of drinking alcohol in the early stages of Islam.  Al-Rifa’i said: “I lied by telling Grand Ayatollah al-Hakim it was not Sayyid Qutb who wrote that but his brother Mohammad.”  That was at a time the Dawa Party was a nascent group of young activists.  Now that it is in power, the Dawa leaders have shown great defiance to the Marja’iya on many political and moral issues.  The literature on the Dawa Party shows no significant practical ties between them and the Marja’iya of Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei, whose main preoccupation was to keep the Marja’iya of Najaf alive and survive the relentless Ba’athist onslaught against him and the institution.  And in the two decades of post-2003 era in Iraq saw four prime ministers, the last three of whom were from the Dawa Party with a total of eleven years in control of the Chief Executive position.  Throughout these years they have treated the admonitions of the Marja’iya very selectively to the point that the Marja’iya played the leading role in denying former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a third term in office and later refused to receive his successor, Dr. Haider al-Abadi, during the latter’s recent visit to Najaf in a clear display of disapproval of his governance.

The Second bloc is the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, or ISCI, (formerly the Supreme Islamic Council for Revolution in Iraq).  The word “Supreme” in the bloc’s name clearly demonstrates its self-regard as the highest representative of Shia political interests in Iraq. ISCI claims to be the heir of the Marja’iya of Grand Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim and, since its founding in Iran in 1982, it has been in the control of the Hakim family — the leadership went from Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim to his brother Sayid Abdulaziz al-Hakim to the latter’s young son Sayid Ammar  al-Hakim.  In this regard, ISCI positions itself as a parallel authority with the traditional Marja’iya, whose current symbols are the students of Grand Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim.  Niceties aside, ISCI is not beholden to Grand Ayatollah Sistani or even to Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Said al-Hakim, the most senior Ayatollah in the Hakim family, who expressed to me, during a meeting in 2014, his discomfort because of what the political conduct of ISCI is doing to the family name.  The only public endorsement ISCI received in the 2014 election was from Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi.


The third bloc is the Sadrist movement, whose current religious authority is Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, an Iraqi cleric residing in Iran, and political loyalty is exclusively given to Sayid Moqtada al-Sadr.  From the days of Moqtada’s father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr, the Sadrists called their Marja’iya “al-Hawza al-Natiqa” (the Vocal School), implying that the nationally recognized Marja’iya is the “Laconic School”.  It goes without saying that the Sadrists maintain the weakest formal ties with the Marja’iya of Grand Ayatollah Sistani in comparison with the two other Shia political blocs.

It is important to emphasize here that we are discussing the political relations and their practical manifestations, not the niceties of social respect and the and the protocol of Najafi clerical circles.  The existence of this mutual respect between the Marja’iya and the rest of Shia political players however has not yielded any meaningful cooperation from the power-hungry Shia political blocs.

حشد 2

The striking irony is that the Marja’iya is emulated by the vast majority of Iraqi Shia, but its religiously devout followers have not elected a political bloc that is beholden to the Marja’iya.  It is true Grand Ayatollah has a powerful ground force in the Popular Mobilization Forces, but this power has no game-changing weight in the Green Zone at the present time.  One reason of this political limitation is Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s rejection of involving the Marja’iya as a participant in the political management of Iraq.  He only allowed it to have a limited role of guidance with no binding input in the day-to-day political process.

This strategic flaw, if not corrected, will have catastrophic consequences for the Iraqi Shia.

 Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim