Rebuilding Iraq: What if Iraq goes Islamic?

Rebuilding Iraq: What if Iraq goes Islamic? February 20, 2005

The election results are now official: the United Iraqi Alliance won a slim majority of seats in Iraq’s new National Assembly. The United Iraqi Alliance is a slate of Shi’i religious parties, and Ibrahim Ja’afari, a doctor and moderate Islamist activist, will likely be the Prime Minister. In a recent interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Dr. Ja’afari said, “Iraq’s minorities must be protected, and they must be given their rights. But we must also respect the majority, so Islam should be the official religion of the state…and we shouldn’t have any laws that contradict Islam.”

Although never officially endorsed by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Supreme Leader of Iraq’s Shi’i majority, it is widely believed that he gave the United Iraqi Alliance his blessing. For the first time in Iraq’s history, the Shia will be given the power they rightfully deserve and long coveted. A very nice gift, indeed, and right in time for Ashura, too.

I can almost sense the nervous trepidation in Washington, because I am almost certain that this was not the outcome they had hoped for. L. Paul Bremer, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, suggested that he would use his veto if Iraqi leaders back then wrote into the interim constitution Islamic Sharia as the principal basis of the law. “Our position is clear,” said Mr. Bremer. “It can’t be law until I sign it.” So, democracy is ok as long as the outcome is in keeping with America’s wishes. How democratic.

Yet, what if Iraq now goes Islamic? What will the Bush Administration do? Publicly, officials have begrudgingly accepted the possible outcome that Islam will be at the heart of Iraq’s new constitution. And for their part, the leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance have tried to put the Americans’ concerns at ease. Still, if the new constitution is brimming with Islam, will America remain silent? A brief look at her past record on Iraq is not encouraging.

In weeks and months leading up to the war, the President and other top Administration officials repeatedly insisted Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. This was the prime justification for invading the country, in fact. After we invaded, however, none whatsoever could be found, and the Iraq Survey Group, after conducting an exhaustive search over many months, officially declared that there were no weapons of mass destruction to begin with.

Senior Administration officials, although not directly saying it, hinted time and again of links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qeada. In fact, a Harris poll conducted in October 2004 revealed that 62 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda. The truth, however, is quite the opposite. As the 9/11 Commission declared, that there was no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda.

President Bush has repeatedly asserted that the attack on Iraq was “the central front” of the war on terror, and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power would make America safer. Wrong again. On February 16, CIA Director Porter Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists.” He also said, “Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists,” and “These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups, and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other countries.”

What’s more, a report released by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director’s think tank, stated that Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next batch of terrorists. David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said that Iraq provides terrorists with “a training ground, a recruitment ground, [and] the opportunity for enhancing technical skills.” Mr. Low also said, “There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries.” Porter Goss said it himself: despite the “serious blows” dealt to Al Qaeda by the U.S., “the terrorist threat to the U.S. in the homeland and abroad endures.” That does not make me feel safer. Do you feel any safer?

That’s 0 for 3 on Iraq. So, I should be forgiven if I am at least a bit wary of the Bush Administration’s assertion that they will accept whatever comes out of the Iraqi electoral and constitutional process, even if that may mean Iraq will go Islamic. Yet, if that is the will of the Iraqi people, then we must accept it. If not, then the entire world will see America as a hypocrite, accepting democracy only when it suits her interests. This cannot be allowed to happen. So, if Iraq goes Islamic, we in America are just going to have to accept it. Ironic, isn’t it?

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at

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