Friday, February 04, 2005

Democratic or theocratic Iraq?

Iraq's future government may not be as secular as some had hoped:

Top Shi'ite clerics, emboldened by what they perceive as a massive turnout by their followers for the coalition of Shi'ite religious parties, have already directed their attention to advocating for an Islamic constitution, several of them said in the aftermath of Sunday's election.

The turnout for the top-finishing electoral slate, a coalition of Islamist parties supported by the Shi'ite clerical establishment, has convinced leading clerics in Najaf that religious parties will have a majority in the Transitional National Assembly that will write Iraq's next constitution.

The clerics of Najaf who orchestrated the Shi'ite political party coalition say they expect a constitutional debate between hard-core Islamists, who want Koranic law to be the constitution's primary source, and moderate Islamists, who want a milder form of religious law. This debate, they say, will dwarf any challenge from secular parties.

US officials are counting on Islamists who oppose a direct role for clerics in government to prevail; otherwise, they fear, Iraq's Shi'ite majority could push the country in the direction of neighboring theocratic Iran. The officials say Iraq's Shi'ite clergy has supported democratic principles, including elections, and shown political restraint since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Interviews with clerics representing the leading schools of thought in Najaf reveal a major debate between the moderate and extreme Islamists, and a growing belief that clerics will shape the constitutional debate far more than secular politicians.

It would be sadly ironic if so many American soldiers died to create a nation that was little more than a clone of Iran.

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