President Donald Trump acted on his campaign promise to freeze travel of Muslims to the United States until comprehensive security measures are in place to minimize the risk of terrorist entry to the United states as refugees or on non-immigrant visa. Shortly following his inauguration, the President signed an executive order to ban the citizens of seven Muslim nations from entry to the Unites States (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Sudan).
The Executive Order drew great criticism for many reasons. Many critics disagreed with the principle of categorically banning a group of people from entry to the U.S. and considered it a collective punishment. Others disagreed on the wisdom of banning the citizens of countries not known for involvement in terrorism on U.S. soil, while giving a pass to the nations, like Saudi Arabia, whose citizens committed the worst terrorist acts on U.S. soil, particularly the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The first claim might be arguable, because certain citizens from the nations which are included in the Executive Order have in fact had some involvement, or planning to be involved, in terrorism on U.S. soil. However, the second claim is beyond dispute. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia, have citizens whose involvement in terrorism on U.S. soil is well documented, and some of these countries, and others not on the list, have citizens who joined the terrorist group ISIS (the self-described Islamic State).
The executive order was challenged in U.S. federal courts and the challengers won the argument, temporarily. Instead of pursuing the same path, the White House is about to issue a new Executive Order shortly, which is going to be similar in spirit of the first Executive Order, but without the legal problems that led to stopping the latter in its tracks before it had any chance of being implemented. Whatever the nature of the new Executive Order might be, it is also expected to generate the same criticism and may also end up in court.
Having heard the dominant voices in the debate here in the West, I sent my team of researchers to ask Iraqis, who are the real people on the receiving end of the U.S. policy in question, what they thought about the Travel Ban. In this article, I will present a first glance at some of the results and some figures to illustrate the response of Iraqis to some salient questions. While each country has a different structure of public opinion, the results from Iraq may give us a hint of how the citizens of other six nations may react to the same policy. A full version of the survey and a more comprehensive analysis will follow in the coming days.
The survey was conducted in three Iraqi provinces south of Baghdad (Najaf, Karbala, and Babil). The population surveyed was random. About one third of the participants were females and two thirds males. The population of the survey were more educated than the average Iraqi society; 67% of the participants have a college degree or higher. The age of the participants was mostly between 18-35 years and 9% were 46 years old or higher.
When asked about the best media that covered the Travel Ban, most of the participants indicated that the highest coverage (50%) was by social media. Iraqi and Arab media came in distant second (20% and 22% respectively).
In fact, both Iraqi and Arab media gave the issue a great deal of coverage. However, the responses demonstrate the significant time young Iraqis spend on social media, especially on Facebook. It is also indicative of the diminishing influence traditional media are having on the Iraqi population that was greatly influenced especially by Arab media in the past. This phenomenon does not only have to do with the convenience and availability of social media in Iraq, but also with the fact that Arab and Iraqi media are having serious credibility problems. They are increasingly becoming crude propaganda outlets for the political entities that own and finance them.
One of the important, and straightforward, questions in the survey was asking the participants what they thought the motive behind banning Iraqis from travel to the United States. The choice of answer to the four options was a “Yes” or “No”. The options were taken from what was suggested by the Executive Order’s opponents and proponents. While 42% of the respondents answered “Yes” to “racism” and 59% agreed with the proponents who said the motive is “hate for Islam”, a large number of participants (47%) said the motive has to do with U.S. domestic politics, while a very unexpected 33% said it is a “legitimate security concern”.
One final question I would like to include in this preview article is the question about whether the participants think the Iraqi Government should reciprocate by banning the travel of U.S. citizens from travel to Iraq. The participants were closely divided, with only 52% thinking the Iraqi Government should ban U.S. citizens from entry to Iraq, while 45% said U.S. citizens should not be banned from entering Iraq. Combined with the previous acknowledgement of legitimate U.S. security concerns, this is a very healthy sign of moderation and tolerance when 45% of the people answered in favor of allowing U.S. citizens to travel to Iraq despite being personally banned by the U.S. Government.
In conclusion, it seems that Iraqis, whom we surveyed show more understanding of U.S. security concerns than expected. But these numbers are not very re-assuring. The U.S. Government and its Iraqi counterpart need to do much more than what they are doing now to heal the wounds of the 2003 invasion and its aftermath and draw the two nations closer to each other. There is a great need to practice public diplomacy and increase the engagement of the two nations to make a better alliance and overcome the mutual mistrust. While the U.S. Government has many legitimate complaints about Iraq and the Iraqis, the other side too has its own legitimate complaints, and banning the entire population may just be the latest of these complaints. If there is a will to make the two countries better allies, there are many ways to do it. Some of the results in this study give us great hope, as they provide some warnings.
Abbas Kadhim is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University and Founding President of the Institute of Shia Studies in Washington. He can be followed on Twitter @DrAbbasKadhim
Hasan Al-Jabiri directed the survey team in Iraq. His due diligence and professionalism deserve to be noted.
Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
Sunday, 20 November 2016, was a normal day at Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a well-financed daily newspaper supervised by the Royal family of Saudi Arabia. Like every new issue, the constant topics were a heavy dose of propaganda polishing the image of the despotic Saudi regime and an equal amount of attacks on countries and governments Saudi considers as enemies, particularly Iraq. But the Sunday issue was different in a very particular way. The leading story was a false statement deliberately attributed to a very respectable organization, the World Health Organization (WHO).
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat claimed that WHO Spokesperson Gregory Hartl warns against “the rise of increasing out of wedlock pregnancies as a result of the Shia pilgrimage to Karbala (Iraq) to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein,” Grandson of Prophet Muhammad. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat went further to falsely cite a non-existing press release claiming that last year 169 Iraqi women became illegitimately pregnant because of the gathering that is hard to control and involving pilgrims from Iran and other countries, again attributing the statement to Mr. Hartl. The rumor about a WHO warning was concocted by an electronic website on Thursday 17 November 2016 and it was categorically denied by the WHO on its website on the next day, but Al-Sharq Al-Awsat went with the salacious material as a leading story anyway, without regard to the truth, common decency, or the feelings of several hundred millions of Shia Muslims.
The WHO issued another press release condemning the use of its name in a story it already denied two days earlier and threatened to take legal action against the perpetrators. Iraqis also initiated legal action inside Iraq and began planning to go to court in London, where the paper is based. Sensing the deep trouble caused by its flagrant mendacity, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat resorted to a very transparent effort of damage control, blaming the most vulnerable members of its staff, the unnamed Iraqi staff member who allegedly wrote the story. The two main Iraqi journalists working for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat denied any involvement in the story and one of them already submitted his resignation protesting the paper’s unprofessional conduct.
It is very unlikely that the story was a mistake, or even an ordinary negligence to follow standard journalistic practices, like verifying the sources of such a potentially scandalous story like this. The defamation of Shia Muslims is a constant mantra of Saudi government and its state-religion, Wahhabism, which is the greatest source of hatred and most terror-friendly ideology in the Muslim world since its inception in the mid-1700s. Wahhabism is sanctioned in Saudi Arabia’s government (Judiciary and Religious Affairs), education textbooks of all levels, and media. Demonizing the Shia and excluding them from Islam is a pillar of Wahhabism, that went too far in its radicalism and hostility against all world religions, including non-Wahhabi Muslims, forcing more than 200 leading Sunni Muslim scholars, including Egypt’s Al-Azhar leadership to hold a conference and essentially excommunicate the Saudi Wahhabis from Sunni Islam.
It must also be mentioned that Karbala and its centrality to the collective Shia conscience has been a target of Wahhabism since the beginning of Wahhabi political existence. In 1802 the Saudi Wahhabis invaded Karbala and committed a despicable atrocity against its unarmed civilians, documented proudly by a Saudi historian in the following words:
“The Muslims [i.e. the Wahhabis] scaled the walls, entered the city by force and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. Then they destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn by those who believe in such things… They took everything they found in town: different types of property, weapons, clothing, carpets, gold, silver, precious copies of the Qur’an, as well as much else – more than can be enumerated.”
Loathsome as it is, the continued unprofessional behavior of the Saudi regime’s media outlets that spread hate and use defamation against other people is one thing, and deliberately involving international organizations in their sectarian fights is another thing altogether. The WHO and other international organizations have employees and volunteers, from all nationalities, spread throughout the world and they are mostly relying on the good will and appreciation of hosting communities for their protection. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s involving them in its lies and fabrications can literally cost lives of innocent, decent international workers who have nothing to do with the Saudi regime or its rivals.
Dr. Abbas Kadhim is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University. Twitter: @DrAbbasKadhim
Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim
Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
Congressional hearings are meant to shed light on certain complexities of issues considered by the legislature as it engages in drafting laws or conducting oversight and this is usually done by seeking the help of experts in various fields of knowledge relevant to the issues being considered.
One cannot overlook this idea while watching many Congressional hearings on Islam. A recent hearing of this kind was held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts. The hearing was meant to be a “debate on radical Islam and Terrorism,” and was supposed to provide “a debate over the language used when discussing Islamic terrorism.” But for the three hours that witnessed testimonies from seven witnesses, the hearing failed to address the definitions of the terms that constituted the subject of debate. There was no definition of “Islamic terrorism”, “jihad”, “Shari’a”, or any of the terms that were used by various speakers, often in contexts that made a mockery of the academic use of these terms.
The other disturbing observation of the hearing, which was supposed to shed light on the language and terms used in addressing “Islam and terrorism” was that the hearing included no true expert on Islam. The witnesses on the panel are all fine speakers and had experience in various issues. Each one of them provided some important information in their respective field. But none of them held the right credentials to address the topics of Islamic studies and none of them showed any aptitude or deep knowledge of these subjects. Chewing a few distorted Arabic words with partial knowledge of their etymological meaning does not make one a “subject matter expert” no matter how many times he asserts that he is. Likewise, merely being a Muslim does not make one an expert in Islam either. The composition of the panel provides an evidence that the Subcommittee staff who put it together did not do a satisfactory job.
When it came to the knowledge about Islamic theology,
jurisprudence, and political theory, the committee room and the people in it resembled an illustration of the allegorical cave in Plato’s Republic. All they knew came from shadows of paper puppets reflected on the wall of the cave, which was illuminated by an artificial light generated from the fire at the cave’s entrance.
Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
The Government of Bahrain is deliberately pushing the Shia majority to a boiling point. Instead of working toward a political solution to the country’s sectarian stalemate and decreasing the forced marginalization of the Shia, who make 70% of the population in Bahrain, the Al Khalifa Monarchy continues to adopt more oppressive measures. It is hard to discern whether this policy is a choice of the Monarchy or imposed by the Saudi government, which enjoys great control on Bahraini politics and security — Saudi troops were sent to Bahrain in March 2011, after the beginning or the Shia uprising to save the Al Khalifa rule from an imminent collapse.
The Government of Bahrain recently banned and dissolved three organizations, including the main Shia political opposition movement from political participation, subjected political activists to arbitrary travel bans, and prevented the Shia imams from any political speech. Then, in an extremely provocative move, the regime withdrew the citizenship of the country’s highest religious authority, Sheikh Isa Qassim. Despite being one of the founding fathers of the modern state in Bahrain, having been a member of the Constituent Assembly that framed the State’s constitutional system in 1973 (elected in 1972), Sheikh Qassim was unjustly targeted and fell victim of this arbitrary practice that became a political tool of first resort by the regime against political opposition and many Bahraini Shia had their citizenship withdrawn despite having roots in Bahrain that predate the Al Khalifa family itself. More than 250 Bahraini citizens were stripped of their citizenship since mid-2014. In a statement by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Government reacted to this practice in the following words:
“We remain deeply troubled by the Government of Bahrain’s practice of withdrawing of nationality of its citizens arbitrarily…Our concern is further magnified by reports that Sheikh Qassim was unable to respond to the accusations against him before this decision was taken, or challenge the decision through a transparent legal process.”
The practice of provoking the majority of population on sectarian basis and arbitrarily targeting religious and spiritual authorities represents a wrongheaded policy that can only exacerbate the political conflict. The Government of Bahrain must consider the consequences of causing the spiritual leader of its Shia majority to live in exile and give his followers a cause for a political struggle that will not end until his victorious return.
when the Shah of Iran deported Ayatollah Khomeini to Turkey, then Iraq in the early 1960s, the Ayatollah became the idol of devout Shia Iranians and his triumphant return to Iran in 1979 was marked by
the spectacular scene of up to five million people lining the streets of Tehran, to witness the homecoming. By the time the Shah of Iran realized the grave mistake he made it was to late for him to do anything other than concede defeat and reflect for the remainder of the short time he lived in exile before his death. But another tyrant took the lesson to heart and avoided the same mistake.
In the early 1980s, Saddam Hussein formed a high-profile committee of his senior lieutenants to study the possibilities of containing the highest religious authority in the Shia world, who resided in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qassim al-Khoei (d. 1992). One of the scenarios he asked the committee to consider was expelling the Grand Ayatollah to his country of birth, Iran. After careful deliberation, the committee adopted the recommendation of the Director General of Security, Fadhil Al-Barrak, who urged the government to allow Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei to stay in Iraq where they could contain his activities and statements. Al-Barrak argued that, if Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei left the Iraq, no one could tell what fatwas he would issue against the Iraqi regime and how the Shia Iraqis, a majority of the population, would react to these fatwas. This kind of prudence seems to be missing in Bahrain these days. The Al Khalifa regime, or the Saudi puppeteers who dictate its policies, seem to be blinded by their sectarian fear and prejudice and leaning toward making the same mistake the Shah of Iran made. If Shia history teaches us anything, it would be that Bahrain can expect the same outcome as Iran. The silver lining is that what seems to be a great injustice today may be the act that will pave the way for a correction of this historical deformity in Bahrain’s history.
Despotic rule should have no place in the twenty-first century, because any way we consider it, we see a system that is politically corrupt and morally deviant.
Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim
Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
For half a century before its 2003 regime change, Iraq experienced escalating levels of authoritarianism that increased with the passing of time and the change of successive governments. A Coup d’état was the only possible method of regime change. What began as a benevolent dictatorship in 1958 soon turned into an increasingly oppressive sectarian rule between 1963 and 1979, and this latter transformed into an absolute tyranny under Saddam Hussein’s family rule that even a coup d’état became impossible. It took a coalition of nations, led by the United States of America, to impose a regime change by military means.
The framers of Iraq’s new constitutional system were heavily influenced by the country’s past experience with authoritarianism and acted out of fear more than hope: they invested all their genius in closing all possible loopholes that might lead to the emergence of a dictator in the future. In so doing, they ended up creating an anemic executive institution whose chief, the Prime Minister, lacks most of the powers that allow him to govern.
Nationally, Iraq is a federal state without a clear definition of its federalism. Each part of Iraq interprets, and practices, federalism in any fashion it can get away with. The northern region, ruled independently by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was acknowledged by the new constitution as an autonomous region with the same privileges that existed before 2003, and it acquired more measures of autonomy in the past years. By contrast, other regions are living under a de facto centralized arrangement where Baghdad decides every aspect of their local governance. The definition of federalism in the Kurdish north, defined as a virtual independence from Baghdad, fades to levels of non-existence in the southern province, Basra, whose local governance is decided by the central government and the local politicians who are subservient to large political parties and leaders from Baghdad.
In this confused environment, national politics and the outcome of governance are decided by a simple method, corrupt political deals made under the influence of duress and blackmail.
The KRG, armed with a very effective lobbying effort and an international sympathy for the suffering of Kurds under the murderous Ba’thist regime, has managed to convince the world that the situation in Iraq has not changed after 2003. The constitutional arrangement they secured, thanks to international meddling and incompetent negotiators on the other side, allows them a great room to maneuver. The Kurdish leadership also use the issue of independence as a highly effective blackmail tool in their continued negotiation with Baghdad. In their entire post-2003 political participation, the Kurds showed no evidence of concern about anything happening in the rest of Iraq. If anything, the cascade of security and political crises in the country were viewed by the Kurds as political opportunities to advance their position as a virtually independent state whose only relation with Baghdad is the 17% of the annual national budget they claim as their share. They support their position by applying pressure on the rest of Iraq from their own region and augment that with influencing the national government’s decision by their representatives in the Iraqi Cabinet and Parliament who take part in the national decision making.
The Sunni Arabs are another political entity who also use blackmail as a favorite political method. But theirs is a more lethal form of blackmail. Their political talking point is that the only alternative to a satisfactory Sunni empowerment, however unreasonably they decide that, is terrorism throughout their region. Since losing power in Iraq, which they held almost exclusively since the creation of the modern state, The Sunni Arabs, backed and encouraged by the regional Arab states, categorically rejected a regime change that granted them their fair share as a minority in the country. Since 2003, a Sunni politician in Iraq would support the government as long as he is in a high position, but the moment he is replaced by a political process or losing an election, he would go back home, gather his armed tribesmen and declare war on the government under the banner of Sunni marginalization. Except for a few Sunni leaders, who chose terrorism from the start, all the so-called Sunni opposition leaders who fought the government have been through the revolving doors of Iraqi politics. In the past, their pernicious practice was less devastating as they allowed a manageable level of terrorism inflow into their regions and they remained in charge of the local control, but their cynical behavior became self-destructive in 2014, when they allowed their regions to fall in the hands of the worst fathomable terrorist organization, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’ish).
Once firmly in control of the Sunni Arab territories, Da’ish abolished the status of all local Sunni tribal Shaykhs and notables and forced them to pay allegiance to its own terrorist leaders, many of whom are foreign. The only local Sunni leaders who retained their voice were those who managed to flee to Arbil (hosted by the KRG) or to neighboring Arab countries, leaving their population divided as internally displaced people living in subhuman conditions or captives in the Da’ish-controlled territories, while their provinces were turned into a war zone. Instead of displaying any remorse for their devastating hubris, Sunni Arab leaders are still blaming everyone but themselves for what their immature political conduct brought on their community. They also still stick to their tired method of blackmail: telling Baghdad to choose their way or endless terrorism.
The Shia of Iraq are yet another contributor to the Iraqi crisis. Since 2003, the sectarian nature of Iraqi politics ascribed an exclusive clique of corrupt politicians and political parties to represent the Shia, none of whom can be accused of possessing any trace of statesmanship. They succumbed to their corruption, creed, criminality, and complete lack of any sense of responsibility and destroyed a centuries-long legacy of rightful Shia claim to assume a leading role in governing the country as a democratic majority. Post-2003 Shia leaders have been so incompetent, they had no idea how to become successful democrats, and when they tried to act as dictators they also failed.
The Shia community in Iraq, having taken the blame for the failure and corruption of their leaders, of which they are the primary victims, finally decided to act. In the past months, major Shia cities have been the theater of mass protests, and most recently, angry Shia protesters sacked the Green Zone twice, occupying the Parliament and the Council of Ministers buildings, as politicians fled through secret exits. In the red zone, the rest of Iraq, headquarters of major political parties became a fashionable target of protesters. What is appalling in the behavior of Shia political leadership is that they stand in total denial and refuse to acknowledge their destructive role in the continued crisis. Instead, they accuse their Shia constituents of being Ba’thists, outlaws, and hooligans.
Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim
by Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
I 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.
The 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. On 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.
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.
Aِbbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
I am coming back to this series of articles to address another catastrophic consequence of the Mosul occupation by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), that is the traumatized population and what to expect from the demoralization that is underway in this devastated region. The citizens of Mosul have been under ISIS control for almost two years, and the way liberation plans are moving, it seems that they will be controlled by ISIS for another year or maybe more. What does this mean for their future political, social, and religious orientation?
Let us, before answering this question, take a step back and look at Mosul before ISIS. The city was Iraq’s most important Sunni cultural icon, with its unique music, food, poetry, and social identity. Out of all Iraqi Sunni centers, Mosul was the least likely city to embrace the rigid religiosity and social norms of ISIS. For centuries, Mosul was the home of all Iraqi ethnic groups (Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, Chaldeans) and an assortment of Iraqi religions and sects (Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Izadis and, until recently, Jews). It is very hard to imagine that the people of this city would choose to live under one color of everything, as ISIS made their present life.
But this past is behind us now and the city is without Christians for the first time in almost 2,000 years and it is without the Shia for the first time in more than a 1,000 years, and the tragedy of the Izadis needs no further elaboration. The big question is this: will the liberation of Mosul undo the arrangement ISIS put in place? The answer is an emphatic “No”. It will be impossible to convince the victims of ISIS that what happened to them was an anomaly after seeing their neighbors in many cases turn against them and loot their homes and lead ISIS to them. With this broken trust, it will be insane to risk it again and return to live among the same people.
The other grave consequence of the ISIS occupation in Mosul is the damage to the souls of its citizens, which is irreversible in some cases. Since taking control, ISIS recruited thousands of men and women in Mosul and turned them into terrorists. What will happen to those people and their families? Will they be brought to justice, or their defense of “I was forced to do it” is going to be accepted, as many Ba’athist criminals were given a second chance? And if so, what do we expect of them?
And what about the minors whose personality is being shaped by ISIS education and training? Will the children who were trained to slaughter human beings be rehabilitated? What kind of psychological programs can reverse their acquired psychopathic tendencies? Indeed, even the general population of Mosul has been touched in various degrees by the daily display of barbarism. It is hard to tell what kind of a human beings are in the crowds that gather to watch public beheading and shooting events and instead of feeling sick because of it, they watch and hold their cell phones with steady hands to film the scenes for memory’s sake. Is this a sign of a psychologically stable population? Who is going to make the determination, and on what basis?
ISIS has turned what once was a great city into a nest of demons. The longer its control lasts, the harder this corruption of human mind and soul will be reversed. Mosul may be liberated in a year or two, but the aftermath of this social catastrophe will be with us for generations to come. In other words, Iraq’s greatest challenge is not how to get Mosul from ISIS, but how to get ISIS out out of Mosul.