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IRAQ - Pan-Islamism Vs Pluralism.

Liberal Arabs say the one thing on which the US should be concentrating is the struggle between the advocates of pan-Islamism and those of pluralism. This is going on in Egypt as well as in Iran, Iraq, Syria, the six GCC states notably including Saudi Arabia, and other countries of President Bush's Greater Middle East (GME) democratisation project. Pan-Islamic movements now are led by two main but opposite currents: the Ja'fari Shi'ite theocracy of Iran and the various Neo-Salafi groups in Sunni Islam.

While the Neo-Salafi militant groups in Iraq's insurgency are led by a Jordanian terrorist, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and their suicide bombers mainly include non-Iraqi volunteers, their popular base in Iraq's Sunni Arab Triangle is the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP). The IIP was formerly known as the Iraqi chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) - which eventually was split, with a radical faction having backed Saddam's Ba'thists and now is part of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS). The AMS' MB members are close to the clandestine Neo-Salafi groups, terrorist gangs responsible for beheadings and suicide bombings; and, before the US-led invasion in March 2003, they used to co-operate with Saddam's intelligence networks and other forces.

The AMS, which as a whole claims to control over 3,000 Sunni mosques throughout Iraq, shunned the US-backed political process in recent months but most of its mosque imams urged Sunni Arabs to go to the Dec. 15 polls. Yet they all wanted the Sunni Arabs to win in order to alter the new constitution and, eventually, return to power in Baghdad - whether they are Ba'thist or of any other political colouring.

The radical/fanatic faction of the AMS is mostly Salafi which is partly Wahhabi. Wahhabi religious scholars have moved from today's Saudi Arabia to Iraq and other parts of Arabia since Shaikh Muhammad Ibn Abdel Wahhab founded this excessively puritanical strain of Sunni Islam more than 250 years ago. Now the Wahhabi religious order in Saudi Arabia, however, is co-ruling the kingdom under increasing pressure from the royal regime - with King Abdullah Ibn Abdel Aziz, from a Shammari mother, having succeeded his half-brother King Fahd when the latter died on Aug. 1, 2005 and leading a campaign of reforms aimed at curbing the lethal influences of the Neo-Wahhabis. The latter follow the Neo-Salafi faction of the MB, whose key ideologues in Egypt like Sayyed Qutb developed a very violent movement called "the Takfeeryioun" (those who denounce and physically punish other Muslims, particularly the Shi'ites of the Ja'fari order, as well as non-Muslims).

At the root of the MB's struggle in Egypt since it was founded in the 1920s, the MB's objective is to revive the Sunni caliphate but under Neo-Salafi control, as Sayyed Qutb and other MB ideologues have written. The MB, which has chapters in almost all Muslim countries, is one offshoot of the Neo-Salafi movement. Others include Hizb ut-Tahrir, a movement which has chapters throughout the Muslim World and which is also potentially violent, as in the case of its chapters in Central Asia.

While in Iraq most political and religious parties of the Shi'ite majority are of the Ja'fari order, this consists of three rival currents: the pan-Arabists of the Sadrist movement, led by the radical Muqtada al-Sadr - this young mullah has been accused as being the man behind the April 2003 murder of Abdel-Majid al-Khou'i in Najaf; the Iran-backed pro-theocracy Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iran (SCIRI), led by al-Hakim clan - alleged to have been behind the 1999 murder of Sadr's father; and the pluralist current of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which has by far the widest popular following among the Ja'fari Shi'ites in Iraq as well as in Iran.

An Iranian-born religious man based in Najaf, Sistani has long been one of the pupils of Grand Ayatollah Abolqasem al-Khou'i, the young Khou'i's father who died in Najaf in 1992 while under house arrest. Like the Khou'is, Sistani and allied grand ayatollahs in Qom are against Khomeini's Velayat-e-Faqih concept - forbidding religious men from being involved in politics and in the day-to-day affairs of state. Constituting an influential segment of the Ja'fari religious establishment in the Shi'ite world, these religious men firmly believe they must always transcend politics and must never assume power which - they emphasise - corrupts men of God.

Although most Iraqi Shi'ites stress that the killing of Sadr's father in 1999 was done by Saddam's Ba'thist regime, rather than by someone from the Hakim clan, because the late Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr had turned against Baghdad. Whatever is the truth, the fact remains that the young Sadr was accused as being the man behind the murder of the young Khou'i in April 2003. The founder and head of SCIRI, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baker Hakim was murdered along with many Shi'ites in the same place in Najaf: The Imam Ali Shrine. That took place in August 2003 and Zarqawi was blamed for the killing - though some have accused the young Sadr of having been involved.

Khomeini's Velayat-e-Faqih (VeF) concept is totalitarian in nature and character, with the Supreme Guide (or supreme leader - Rahbar) claiming to represent the 12th Imam and God on earth. Both SCIRI, now led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, and the Sadrist pan-Arabist and pan-Islamist movement are totalitarian in nature and character; whereas the former appeals to the middle class, the latter appears to the poor and un-educated Shi'ites of Iraq. By contrast, the Ja'fari religious school to which Sistani belongs is pluralistic in nature and character. Sistani's main ally and spiritual mentor in Qom is Grand Ayatollah Abolfazl Lankarani, widely regarded as the highest spiritual authority in Ja'fari Shi'ism.

Likewise, the Sunni MB and the Neo-Salafi movement are pan-Islamist in nature and in character. Both are totalitarian currents wanting to unite the Muslim world under their own banner. Now the MB in Egypt is drumming up political pluralism in Egypt only in order to take power and turn the state into a Salafi or Neo-Salafi theocracy - the very name "caliphate" denotes utter intolerance towards all other Muslims as well as the non-Muslims. Occasionally, the MB in Egypt have alliances with other Egyptian parties or currents; but there are only short-term marriages of convenience.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jan 2, 2006
Words:1031
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