It’s the great paradox of the Bush doctrine: pushing for democracy in the Middle East but trying to keep a degree of control over the outcome of elections. And despite early returns showing a sweep of the elections by the Shi’a-dominated United Iraqi Alliance. “I don’t think, at this stage, that there’s anything like justification for hand-wringing or concern on the part of Americans,” explained Vice President Dick Cheney, “that somehow they’re going to produce a result we won’t like.” While Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has repeatedly opposed “direct clerical involvement” in government (a la Iran), debates have begun among various senior Shi’a clerics about how much (and what kind of) Islamic law should govern Iraq, and how much of the new Iraqi constitution should enshrine shari’a. “All of the ulema (clergy) and marja, and the majority of the Iraqi people,” demanded a representative of key religious leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayad, “want the national assembly to make Islam the source of legislation in the permanent constitution and to reject any law that is contrary to Islam.” (Previous attempts to enshrine Islam in the constitution were vetoed by former US administrator Paul Bremer.) The emerging Iraqi political landscape has some in the Middle East talking about a “Shiite Crescent” reaching from Iraq to Afghanistan, which would change the poltical landscape of the Middle East and embolden Shi’a minority communities. The first item on the new Iraqi government’s agenda could be the biggest test for the United States: a demand for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. (Even though Bush has refused to do so, he grudgingly accepts the possibility.) Actually, the winding down of the US military presence in Iraq might coincide rather nicely (for some, anyway) with the increasing drumbeat for military action next door in Iran. An attack on Iran is “not on the agenda at this point,” according to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice – which, of course, doesn’t preclude it getting back on the agenda at a later one.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.