In this diary, I will focus on the White House’s concerns. What I have not understood is how the White House could assert that Iran has helped the insurgency since the insurgency has been principally Sunni. If Iran is going to help anyone, it will be some faction of Iraqi Shi’a. Who?
Taxonomy of Iraqi Shi’a. There are many different Shi’a factions. Who are they? What do they represent? The four most important actors are the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Islamic Dawa Party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadrist Movement.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. A central belief of the “twelver” Shi’ism of Iran and Iraq is that the twelfth Imam has disappeared and will return at some point. That means that there cannot be a clear leader of their community until then. Somewhat as a substitute, they look to leading scholars. Leading scholars are chosen from among their peers (the “ulema”). The community of scholars is responsible for granting titles like ayatollah and grand ayatollah.
Ali Sistani is based in Najaf, a very important center for Shiite scholarship. While in exile, Khomeini went there to study as well. One of the questions that arose in Najaf was the relationship between the Muslim scholars, the ulema, and the state. Ayatollah Khomeini took the view, unusual in Najaf, that the ulema were responsible for guiding the state. Sistani, of a more quietist view, is of the view that the Muslim laity are responsible for guiding the state. Remember this controversy: it reappears.
The al-Dawa. The oldest Shiite political party in Iraq is the Daawa Party founded in 1957 by Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr (uncle of Muqtada al-Sadr). This party grew in the 1970s and 1980s. Quoting Juan Cole,
Shiites in Iraq were radicalized and brutalized by two major events: the Baath crackdown on Shiite political activity in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the crushing of the 1991 uprising and subsequent persecution of and even genocide against Shiites in the South.
As a result of the Baathist suppression, parts of the al-Dawa turned to assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein. Parts went into exile – some in London, some Iran. The chief spokesman for al-Dawa is Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the former Prime Minister of Iraq under the Transitional Government.
The SCIRI. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq split off from the al-Dawa in 1982. It consisted of Iraqis but was based in Iran. During the Iran-Iraq War, they formed the Badr Corps which fought on the Iranian side of the Iran-Iraq war. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Badr Corps has crossed the border back into Iraq.
The SCIRI differs from the al-Dawa on the question of who should control the state. The al-Dawa is of the view that the Muslim laity should; the SCIRI thinks the ulema should.
If any entity might represent Iranian interests in Iraq, one might think it is the SCIRI and the Badr Corp, its military arm. However, this concern does not make sense. The SCIRI is part of the government of Iraq. Its chief spokesman is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim who recently visited the White House. While the Badr Corps has clashed a few times with Occupation Forces, it has had a policy of cooperation with the central government.
The Sadr Group. The Sadr Group is lead by Muqtada al-Sadr. He is the son of Shi’a cleric assassinated by the Baathist regime. Muqtada al-Sadr did not go into exile but instead went underground until Saddam Hussein was deposed. The Sadr Group has clashed with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani: they attempted to take over the mosques in Najaf. They have also been accused of having murdered the former SCIRI leader Ayatollah Baqr al-Hakim as well as the moderate Abdul Majid al-Khoei on his return from London. The Sadr Group has been critical of Iranian influence in Iraq although Muqtada al-Sadr has visited Teheran. The military wing of the Sadr Group is the Mahdi Army. Their strength was revealed recently in October with their attack on the city of Amara in southeastern Iraq. The U.S. has alternately clashed and held its fire with respect to the Mahdi Army. It does seem to be behind the worst Shiite abuses in the sectarian battles in Baghdad.
Conclusion. So where does this leave us? The Bush Administration wants us to worry about Iranian meddling in Iraq. How will this meddling happen? Senator Lieberman wants to hoodwink us into thinking it will be through Al Qaeda, but that is patently absurd. It is not through Ayatollah Sistani: quietists don’t meddle and cannot be the agents of meddling. It is not going to be through Muqtada al-Sadr: the Iranians could not possibly control him. That leaves the Dawa and the SCIRI. But these two organizations are key parts of the government of Iraq! In fact, the head of the SCIRI just visited Bush in the White House.
Conclusion: The concern with meddling is a phoney one manufactured by the Bush Administration. Weapons of Mass Destruction, anyone?