Thousands Of Iraqis Demonstrated In

*Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad Monday morning against the leadership meeting held under American auspices. The demonstration was boycotted, however, by the powerful Sadr Movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr. They said they wanted to get involved on neither side. The Sadr spokesman, Adnan Shahmani, said that the Sadriyyun did not object to the US removing Saddam and weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, but if the American presence became an occupation, they would resist it. He also said that the Sadr Movement recognizes as the highest religious authority in Shiism not Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani but rather Kazim al-Ha’iri, who has been exiled in Qom for many years. Al-Shahmani maintains that the late Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr had urged his followers to turn to al-Ha’iri when he, al-Sadr, died. He characterized Sistani and his followers as quietist traditionalists, but said the Sadr movement is activist and deeply involved in society, and so is progressive. This statement seems to be code for the Sadrists wanting a Shiite-ruled religious state in Iraq. He dismissed the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the al-Da`wa party as having no standing inside the county (i.e. he sees them as expatriate parties with a shallow membership basis inside Iraq itself).

*Thanks to those of you who saw me on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer Monday evening and sent kind responses. The guests, Michael Hudson, Fawaz Gerges, and I were interviewed by Margaret Warner and were discussing the issues around Islam and democracy in Iraq. I think we all agreed it was possible, but only if it was inclusive and not seen as a mainly American project.

*The leadership meeting in Baghdad sponsored by Jay Garner attracted more than 250 Iraqi notables–mainly technocrats and academics. (Ironically, these are precisely the sort of people the Republican Right tries to marginalize over here in the US :-) They, or at least their sponsoring organizations, had been selected by Garner himself. It was not a representative meeting. Exiles were over-represented. Shiites were under-represented. The Da`wa Party and the Sadr Movement, two of the largest political groupings, refused to be involved. Al-Da`wa has said it will not cooperate with a military administration; Garner’s reporting line goes back to the Pentagon. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most respected Shiite cleric in Iraq, refuses to meet with the Americans. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq did deign to send a “low-level” delegation. Since the Shiites form a majority of the country, and since the religious parties are among the more organized sections of the community, leaving them out would be a huge mistake. Setting things up so that they feel they cannot on principle attend is also a huge mistake.

*There is trouble looming in Iraq between religious Shiites and religious Sunnis. Despite the demonstrations in Baghdad on Monday calling for Iraqi unity and for an early departure by the US, the mixture of religion and politics will be potent. The Financial Times reports, “Mahmud al-Issawi, deputy head of the Higher Islamic Council, a Sunni representative body, claimed on Sunday that his community formed a majority in Iraq. Nearly every other observer believes the Shia represent at least 60 per cent of the population. ‘Of course we want an Islamic government. But we do not want to swap one form of tyranny for another – like in Iran,’ he said.” The Sunni Arabs have lorded it over the Shiites for hundreds of years in Iraq, and if they attempt to go on doing so, there will be blood in the streets. But al-Issawi is quite right that the Sunnis are not going to agree to rule by ayatollahs, or the implementation of Shiite law, either. Shiites often seem not to realize how offensive such developments would be to Iraqi Sunnis. I have a bad feeling about this.

*Al-Hayat says that the US Marines have emptied a large dam near Kut that had been built at Saddam’s orders to dry out the swamps of the south, where the Shiite Marsh Arabs lived. Only 10% of the Iraqi marshlands survive according to satellite photos. The dam served no practical purpose other than to dry out the south and hurt the Shiites, who were rebelling against Saddam.

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