Iraqi Islamic Party Withdraws Dispute

Iraqi Islamic Party Withdraws
Dispute over Theocracy among Iraqi Shiites

The near assassination on Monday of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a leading Shiite cleric and politician, raised new fears of sectarian strife in Iraq. Al-Hakim himself, however, urged Shiites to concentrate on winning the January 30 elections and to avoid doing anything that would derail them. (I.e. he knows that anti-election Sunni extremists are baiting the Shiites, and he is urging them not to fall for it).

Muhsin Abdul Hamid of the Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew his party ticket from the January 30 elections. He said he was not calling for a boycott, but his party was simply declining to participate because the Sunni Arab minority will be disadvantaged in any polls because of the poor security conditions in their provinces. The IIP withdrawal is a huge blow to the electoral process’s legitimacy, since there are now no major Sunni Islamic groupings in the race, and only small, old-style 1960s Arab nationalist parties are competing for the Sunni Arab vote. The popular Association of Muslim Scholars has called for Sunnis to boycott the elections, a call taken up on Monday by Usamah Bin Laden as well.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the US would “urge” Iraqi Sunnis to turn out to vote. He also said that any post-election scheme for ensuring proper Sunni participation, such as increasing the number of seats in parliament and awarding the extra ones to Sunnis as a quota, would have to await the election of the Iraqi parliament itself, since only it could make such new rules. Powell at one point seemed to me to suggest that ensuring Sunni representation at the cabinet level in the executive of the new government would be a sufficient step. But that is simply not true. Since parliament will craft the new permanent constitution, it is essential that Sunni Arabs have a proportionate role in drafting it. (See Andrew Arato’s essay below for one possible solution to this problem.)

Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder reveals that the United Iraqi Alliance, the mega-Shiite list put together under the auspices of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, nearly collapsed because of an internal dispute among the Shiite parties over theocracy.

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has long backed rule by clerics. The Dawa Party is more lay in character, but does want an Islamic Republic that is ruled by Islamic law and Islamic economics. The Sadr movement claims to be a third way between Khomeinist theocracy and Najaf’s quietism. Many important candidates on the UIA ticket come from these movements. They are opposed by more secular-leaning Shiites, who share the ticket with them.

In his book “Islamic Government,” which originated as lectures in Najaf in the late 1960s, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had put forward his theory of the “Guardianship of the Jurisprudent” (in Arabic, wilayat al-faqih). He held that in the absence of a Prophet or appointed vicar of the Prophet (an Imam), the clerics should rule in Islam. Khomeini’s idea was, in this form, a complete innovation in Islamic thought, similar to Lenin’s transformation of Marxism when he posited the intellectuals as the vanguard of the proletariat. Khomeini may indeed have been influenced by Leninism via Iraqi Baathism, as Ervand Abrahamian has speculated. In Khomeini’s system, the clerics are the vanguard of the Imam (Shiites believe the Imam is absent, in a supernatural realm, but will someday return–rather as Christians believe of Christ).

Although Abdul Aziz al-Hakim now denies it, he has long supported Khomeini’s ideology.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani rejected the rule of the jurisprudent in political affairs, for which he is disliked by hardliners in Iran. But he affirms the guardianship of the jurisprudent in “social affairs.” That is, he feels the clerics should intervene through their rulings (fatwas) to ensure that Islamic law and Islamic principles are upheld by any Muslim-majority parliament. Obviously, this stance is not the same as a separation of religion and state. Rather, it is simply an insistence that clerics influence the state indirectly, rather than ruling themselves.

SCIRI has for many years accepted the guardianship of the jurisprudent in political affairs. Dawa’s position is closer to that of Khomeini, but the party does hope to implement Islamic law or shariah as the law of the land.

A big victory for the largely Shiite United Iraqi Alliance probably will not lead to clerical rule, though Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said in spring of 2003 that he hoped the Shiite majority would eventually make its will felt. But it is likely to lead formerly rather secular Iraq toward greater implementation of Islamic law or shariah. If the Sunni Arabs boycott in large numbers and end up underrepresented, this situation would magnify the power of the Shiite parties, including the theocratic ones.

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