*Two US soldiers died in Iraq in the past 36 hours. Guerrillas attacked a US convoy between Falluja and Ramadi, killing one soldier and wounding two others. Another soldier died when an Iraqi automobile struck him as he was changing a flat tire near Tikrit.
*Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has issued a strongly worded condemnation of the failure of the US to provide security in Iraq. “The Iraqi people have, since the fall of the previous regime, suffered from bad secuirty conditions and an increase in crime, to which citizens have been exposed throughout Iraq.” He condemned as “sinful” the latest of these breaches of security, the bombing of the office of his colleague Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim in Najaf on Sunday. He called on “those concerned” “to put an end to this dangerous phenomenon and to take the necessary steps to improve the security situation, including a strengthening of national Iraqi forces charged with providing security and stability, and supporting them with sufficient personnel and materiel.” In a related story, the son of Grand Ayatollah Sa`id al-Hakim, Muhammad Hussein al-Hakim, rebuffed an American request to meet with them. He said “We do not want direct contact with the Americans. What we need is for the national forces to be free to act.” He called on the Americans to increase the number of border outposts, suggesting that foreigners may have been behind the bombing. -Al Zaman
*Ahmad Safi, a key aide to Grand Ayatollah Alis Sistani gave an interview yesterday to al-Hayat newspaper. Al-Safi told journalist Ibrahim Khayyat in Najaf that the American occupation is unacceptable, and that there might be a resort to arms by Shiites as a last resort if it isn’t ended in a timely manner.
Asked about Sistani’s preferences with regard to the drafting of a new constitution, Al-Safi said that the chief religious leaders of the Iraqi Shiites want the whole people to be able to choose. He regretted that both under the monarchy and in the republic, a sigificant proportion of the people had been left voiceless. He stressed that the religious leadership viewed the constitution as an absolutely central issue. He insisted that all Iraqis be able to see in the constitution safeguards against their being tyrannized. Al-Safi said that there were three camps on the issue of the constitution. One wanted it written by foreigners outside Iraq, another wanted it written by expatriate Iraqis, and a third wanted it written by Iraqis inside Iraq. He said that the important thing is that it be written by Iraqis, and by Iraqis with a strong sense of the Iraqi nation, such that the drafters can be objective and set aside their sectarian or sectional interests. “For this reason,” he added, “the religious leaders believe that a committee must be formed, and that a group of people must be elected to draft it, such that the people have confidence in the drafters. After it is drafted, it must be voted on in a popular referendum.”
Asked about Hussein Khomeini’s recent call for a separation of religion and state, al-Safi said no one in Iraq wanted to repeat in Iraq the mistakes of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He implied that in Khomeini’s Iran, religion had been politicized. In contrast, he said, politics needed to be infused with religion, as did economics and the wider society. The tool for this infusion of religion was the fatwa or legal ruling, which would be given with regard to certain key issues. [Al-Safi is saying that the clergy needn’t rule, as in Iran, but that religion should have a major influence, through the mechanism of the fatwa].
*Polish troops moving in to replace the US Marines in the Shiite holy city of Karbala have already come under mortar fire, according to Andrew England of AP. The Monday night incident resulted in no casualties, according to Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski in Warsaw. He said, “Those were warning shots indicating that there are still people ready to fight for Saddam Hussein’s ideas.” Maybe; but it seems to me that there are few Baathists left in Karbala, and it is more likely that the fire came from radical Shiites seeking to set the right tone in a new relationship with the Poles. The Poles have put the Bulgarians in charge of Karbala city itself, and the US Marines have just handed the city over to Lt. Col. Petko Marinov and his 250 Bulgarian troops. There has already been a roadside bombing of one of their vehicles; again, no casualties.
I find all this Coalition of the Willing business troubling. Bulgarians are 83% Christian and only 12% Muslim, and the government has very bad relations with Muslims they consider ethnic Turks, chasing a lot of Bulgarian Muslims out of the country in recent years. Are these really the people you want in charge of one of the holiest shrines in the Muslim world? They are unlikely to have any Arabists. And, what are they speaking when communicating to the Americans? Russian? I wouldn’t say cultural sensitivity to the sensibilities of Muslims is their strong suit, and that is what we desperately need in Karbala of all places.
*Al-Azhar seminary in Cairo, Egypt, among the preeminent Sunni Muslim religious institutions in the world, has issued a fatwa or legal ruling forbidding Muslims from any cooperation with the appointed Iraqi Interim Governing Council, according to IslamOnline. It gives the text as saying, ““The council lacks religious and secular legitimacy, as it had been imposed on the Iraqis under the power of occupation and does not conform to Islam’s established principle of shura (counseling).” The ruling argued for popular sovereignty: “Iraq is an Islamic country whose government should be legitimate and set up in accordance with the principle of Shura.” This language echoes the ruling of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani saying that the delegates to the constitutional convention must be elected rather than appointed by the Americans. Popular sovereignty appears to have become a key legitimizing idea even among conservative clerics in the Middle East.
*The words of Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator of Iraqi, at a recent news conference, according to Australian Broadcasting Co. reporter Geoff Thompson were as follows:
Ambassador Bremer was asked whether it might be more accurate to say that perhaps it was the presence of American forces in Iraq which had turned Iraq into a new battleground in the United States war on terror.
PAUL BREMER: No, it would be completely inaccurate because Iraq under Saddam Hussein for 20 years was identified as a state sponsor of terrorism, correctly in my view. This was a state which sponsored terrorism, it is no longer a state which sponsors terrorism, I don’t sponsor terrorism, I try to defeat it.
Thompson contrasts this denial to the statements made to him in Baghdad of two members of the Interim Governing Council appointed by Bremer:
YOUNADEM KANA: Yeah, for sure it’s a magnet for terrorists, yeah. For sure it’s a magnet for terrorists and especially the most fanatic extremists, let’s say, bin Laden’s group al-Qaeda, for example – yes, it’s a magnet. . . . It’s more easy for them to reach . . . Americans, not only for Americans, for all Coalition forces, even allies. (Kana is the Christian representative on the IGC).
Thompson then quotes Muhyi al-Kateeb [former Iraqi ambassador and more recently proprietor of a gasoline station in the US]:
MUHYI AL-KATEEB: Because we have no control of our borders yet, so it is heaven for terrorism.
GEOFF THOMPSON: As long as there is an American presence here it’s going to be an attractive place for terrorists looking to target Americans?
MUHYI AL-KATEEB: I agree.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Do you see a certain irony in the fact that America’s war on terror, in a sense, made the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein possible politically, and now in fact it’s attracting, it’s attracting people who wish to battle America on that front?
MUHYI AL-KATEEB: It is ironic. But this is the reality of it. I mean, our borders are open and they’re very long ones too, and we have a lot of neighbours that don’t like what is going on inside Iraq. So I assume that they are going to use that to, maybe to send some signals to the Americans on the Iraqi soil, unfortunately.
The entire piece is online at:
*For the illegal pilgrim trade of Iranians to the Iraqi shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, see James Hider’s smart piece in CSM. He points out that this illicit pilgrim trade poses severe security problems. But Iraqi border police and US forces at the moment are unable to do anything about it.
*The Shiite custom of temporary marriage is reappearing in Iraq, according to Hannah Allam of Knight-Ridder. In Islam, marriage is a contract between husband and wife. In Sunni Islam, the contract is for life except if terminated by divorce. In Shiite Islam, there are two kinds of marriage–the lifetime contract, and mut`a (Persian: sigheh) or temporary marriage. In temporary marriage, the contract specifies a time period during which the marriage is valid, after which it lapses. A lot of Western (and Sunni) observers deride temporary marriage as a form of prostitution, but this charge is at least somewhat inaccurate. Children born during a temporary marriage have full rights, and during the term of the marriage the woman is a recognized wife. Americans who shack up with one another for a few months and then move on are basically engaged in mut`a, common-law style, except that US law is usually far less kind to the offspring of these unions. All that said, as it is practiced in contemporary Iran and Iraq, mut`a socially disadvantages women and reinforces patriarchy. I say socially rather than economically because both societies have a lot of war widows, and polygamy and mut`a are ways for them to have husbands in societies where many of the eligible men in their age range were killed in the Iran-Iraq war or other violent conflicts. (The medieval European solution to the problem of there being more women than eligible men was to get them to a nunnery. In contemporary America, there is also a surplus of women, especially in the Vietnam generation; a lot of women are just left without mates.) Of course, in a welfare state where women were truly equal to men, the women would not need to contract temporary marriages or become a second wife to ensure financial survival. But that anyway does not describe Iraq at the moment. I think the practice is on the whole a bad one, but I am just suggesting we not be too quick to condemn the women who adopt it, for most are pretty desperate. See