King Abdullah II and President Yawir Worry about Iran and Shiism
Robin Wright and Peter Baker of the Washington Post got King Abdullah II to say the most amazing things about alleged Iranian influence in Iraq. [By this I only meant to say that they were excellent interviewers who elicited very frank comment, not that they induced him to say anything he did not want to; he later spoke just as forcefully on Chris Matthews’ Hardball show. My phraseology was perhaps too colloquial and informal– I was trying to pay them a compliment for getting the story.]
It is simply not the case that hundreds of thousands of Iranians are piling into Iraq to vote in the upcoming elections. The Iranian government has discouraged pilgrimage because of the poor security situation, and the Coalition troops would be able to notice that level of infiltration. It isn’t happening.
Why is Abdullah so nervous? Look at it from his point of view. Three years ago, you had a Sunni-dominated, secular Iraq; a Sunni Jordan; a Sunni-majority Syria with a Baath government that is dominated by the Allawi Shiite minority; a Sunni Palestine; a joint Maronite Christian-Sunni Muslim dominated Lebanon; a Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf. Sunni-dominated Iraq had served as a bulwark against the influence of Iranian Shiism and of Khomeinist ideas. Khomeini believed in Islamic governance and maintained that Islam is incompatible with monarchy.
Since the Americans overthrew Saddam, the Iraqi Shiites seem likely to form the next government. I would guess that about a third of Iraqi Shiites are sympathetic to Khomeinist ideas. That means those ideas are now on Jordan’s doorstep, with no Baath buffer.
Worse, what if Shiite Baghdad and Shiite Tehran form a new axis? What if they spread the idea of Islamic government and the need to get rid of kings? If those ideas jump over into Sunni fundamentalist movements in Jordan, the head that wears the crown could rest uneasy indeed. Likewise, the new Shiite axis of Baghdad and Tehran would have a natural ally in Allawi-dominated Syria and in the Shiite Hizbullah Party of southern Lebanon. Shiites may now be 40% of the Lebanese population, and they could eventually be the majority of the country. Hizbullah and Iran have friendly relations with Hamas in Gaza. Shiite Iraq would inevitably hook up with the Shiite majority in Bahrain and the Shiite plurality in al-Hasa or the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (where the oil is).
Suddenly Abdullah II could be surrounded by a sea of Shiite influence, and it could be anti-monarchical and theocratic. If such ideas (shorn of their Shiite tinge and naturalized in fundamentalist Sunnism) became dominant among Jordan’s substantial opposition movements, and perhaps these groups got money and support from Baghdad and Tehran, Abdullah II could end up being overthrown.
The king’s worries about a million Iranian infiltrators into Iraq are merely his own unfounded nightmares. His perception of a new Shiite order in the Mashriq or eastern reaches of the Arab world is entirely correct.