*I’ve just read several recent new reports on the Shiites of Iraq, and I am struck by how often people mention the authority they grant to the religious establishment in Najaf. Many members of the al-Da`wa party and supporters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq appear to discount democracy in favor of letting the Najaf clerics give the orders. Or so they are saying to journalists. Since the Najaf establishment is hostile to a long-term US presence, this could be a problem for the Garner plan.
Kut has been taken over by a Shiite leader with ties to Iran, Said Abbas, and his armed militia may pose an obstacle to the choosing of a popularly selected leadership any time soon. Some 3000 Shiites in Samawah demonstrated in favor of the Najaf religious establishment. They carried pictures of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the late Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (assassinated 1999 by Saddam’s forces). They chanted, “No to colonial occupation, no to America, blessed be Iraq!” They denied any rift bewteen Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr, and said both shoud be honored.
*Muhammad Husain Fadlu’llah of the Lebanese Shiite Hizbullah party attacked US motives in Iraq, saying that the Americans are there in order ultimately to impose a humiliating settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the Arab side.
*It is almost certain that a free political system in Iraq will empower
Iraqi Shiites. In turn, this will inevitably have an effect on Saudi
Shiites in al-Hasa and elsewhere (e.g. near Medina). For one thing,
Wahhabi policies of suppressing Shiite public religiosity may well meet
with strong representations from the Iraqi embassy in Riyadh. Ahsa’is
will go to Iraq for religious training and become politicized. There are
several hundred thousand Shiites in the Eastern Province and last I knew
many of the workers on the oil rigs were Shiite. They are therefore
important. They have been stiffed by Saudia, since although they
live over the petroleum, the Wahhabis and Sunnis have been the main
beneficiaries of it, while they are less well off.
If Arab Shiism is unchained in Iraq, and that forces the Saudis to move
toward greater pluralism in treatment of the Shiites (and that treatment
has improved since 1986 anyway), this change could further enrage Wahhabis
and Salafis against the princes.
I saw a press report last winter with an interview of Ahsa’i Shiites who
were hoping a free Iraq would improve their fortunes. Shiites are a small
minority in Saudia, but they are strategically located. This issue is
only one, probably secondary, consideration in Saudi officials’
apprehensions of developments in Iraq.