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[casi-analysis] IPO Iraq News Analysis: Sep 8, 2004

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IPO's Iraq News Analysis
September 8, 2004

- After the Najaf standoff, many analysts and politicians have been left
wondering what Sayyid Sistani's resolution to the conflict means for Iraq's
political future? While many agree the intervention was positive and
necessary, some analysts are alarmed by the involvement of a religious
authority in a political matter and are uncomfortable with the apparent
blurring of the line between mosque and state.

Sistani has entered the political debate before when in June 29 last year he
issued a fatwa which proclaimed that Iraq's National Assembly which will
draft the country's permanent constitution must be selected through general
elections. While Sistani has repeatedly declared he does not want a
political role he has continually stressed that "the people" must be the
final arbiters for Iraq's political system.

Iraq must decide what form of secularism it wishes to adopt. If separation
between religion and politics is sought - i.e. where men and women of
religious authority are not permitted to work within the political arena and
religious political parties are banned - then Sistani's actions are clearly
a breech of this. However, if secularism is to mean a separation of religion
and state, where religious personalities and religion-based political
parties are allowed to operate in the political arena as long as they are
confined to the same limits as every other politician and political party,
then Sistani's actions are not anti-secular. Such an arrangement is clearly
different to what is practiced in countries such as Iran where unelected
religious authorities have powers over and above those of elected officials.
In fact, it can be argued that Sistani's fatwa last year was in essence a
secular assertion that established "the people" as the ultimate authority
within Iraq's political system.

- The towns and villages just south of Baghdad have in recent months become
strongholds for Wahabi extremists. Two French hostages were kidnapped here,
the Minister for Religious Endowment, Hussein al-Shami, and INC leader,
Ahmed Chalabi, both escaped assassination attempts within the same week. A
senior aide of Muqtada al-Sadr was also assassinated there as he was
returning to his home in Baghdad. In May 2004, Salama al-Khufaji, who was a
member of the Iraqi Governing Council, survived an assassination attempt
that claimed the life of her teenage son in the same area. Wahabi terrorists
are emerging as possibly the greatest threat to Iraqi security and
democracy. Their disregard for human life is evident from their actions
around the world as Wahabi ideology is the basis of groups such as al-Qaeda
and the hostage takers in Russia. The fact that their sworn enemies are Shia
Muslims, which constitute over 60% of Iraq's population, makes this an
incredibly dangerous cocktail that must be overcome if stability is to be

- Leading up to the Republican Party convention, President Bush was being
urged by some in his party to shift the focus away from Iraq. With the
constant barrage of negative news coming out of Iraq, many who supported the
ouster of Saddam Hussein are losing hope of seeing a stable, democratic Iraq
and are beginning to question their initial judgment. Rep. congressman Doug
Bereuter recently said, "it was a mistake to launch that military action."

The continued unrest in the Sunni-triangle and parts of Baghdad does not
seem to be resolving. There are no signs that by January, when Iraqis are
supposed to have their first general elections, that the situation will have
improved. In fact, if the trends of recent months are anything to go by,
things may actually get worse. This leaves open the question as to whether
it is actually wise to wait till January before going ahead with elections.
It is highly likely that security will improve in Iraq after elections since
Iraqis will no longer feel indifferent, as they do now, to the interim
administration and will assume a collective responsibility for making things
better with a government that they elected. For President Bush, the
difference will be between Americans going to poll with an unstable and
volatile Iraq or an unstable Iraq that has just held its first ever

News Analysis brought to you by the Iraqi Prospect Organization:
Promoting democracy for Iraq

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