Sunday, 26 August 2007

The Iraqi Shi'a under the Spotlight of Suspicion

Equating Arabism with “Sunnism” was the crucial principle that formulated the relation of successive Iraqi states with different Iraqi communities, mainly the Shia’h and the Kurds. Successive Iraqi governments, almost always run by Sunni Arabs, regarded Shi’sm as a schism encouraged and supported by discontented anti-Arab (Shu’ubi) Persians. Satti’h Al-Hassri, Imzahim Al-Pachachi, Abdul Aziz Al-Douri, Khairullah Tilfah and Saddam Hussein were examples of prominent figures that questioned the Iraqi Shia’h identity and loyalty. And recently, Arab leaders shared the same views e.g. King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt. The last responses from Iraq came indirectly from Adnan Addulaimi, the head of the General Council for the People of Iraq, “Mu’tamar Ahlul Iraq”, in a letter addressed to the Arab world urging them to stand up and help their “Arab Sunni Brothers” in Iraq against an Iranian (Safawi, Persian) agenda aiming to get rid of all “Arab Sunnis” in Baghdad.
All the above figures believe that Iraqi Shia’h owes basic loyalty to Iran. I’ve always tried to get to the bottom of these accusations and the only conclusions I’ve reached so far were:

1. Since the evolution of Shi’sm as a distinct sect in Islam during the 7th and 8th centuries, the Shih’a of Iraq in particular was accused of being collaborators with non-Arab outsiders like the Mongols, Safavid Iran and recently the Americans.
2. The allegations of loyalty to Iran were the most important for the last five centuries i.e. since Iran (or Persia) became a Shia’h state. In addition, these allegations try to portray the Iraqi Shia’h as passively controlled by Iranians irrespective of the nature of the Iranian regime, a Qajar monarchical pro-West regime or fundamentalist Islamic Republic.
3. There is an attempt to paint a picture of “inferiority complex” among Iraqi Shih’a towards Iran, the culture, the Shi’sm, the history and finally the state itself.
4. And the last misconception is to believe that all Iraqi Shih’a, whether of Arabic or non-Arabic (Fayli Kurds or Turkumans) origins, religious Najaf i turbaned mullah or secular educated Baghdadi communist, are all non-Arabs (Ajam) and highly suspicious. For me, the idea of presence of one homogenous mass named the “Shih’a of Iraq” is purely non-sense.

The above mentioned points open the door to many other unanswered questions: if the Shih’a of Iraq were labelled throughout history as none-Iraqis, Safawi’s or “Ajam” and owe loyalty to Iran, why the Iraqi Sunnis were not considered as Ottomans or accused of being loyal to Ottoman empire interests. Urban Iraqi Sunnis formed the backbone of the civil service and military force in Iraq for approximately four centuries. Moreover, they used Turkish rather than Arabic as their official language. The second question that buzzes in my head is: if the current Iraqi government has close ties with Iran, why we should consider the whole Shih’a community in Iraq as pro-Iranian. The Syrian government repeatedly admitted that they have close political, financial and military links to Iran but nobody dared to accuse them of being “Safawi’s” or “Ajam”. During Iran-Iraq war, Syria openly stood by Iran and helped the Iranians against Iraq but Adnan Addulaimi did not accuse them of disloyalty or questioned their Arabic identity.

Coming back to Addulaimi letter, The General Council for the People of Iraq is one of the main constituents of the Iraqi Accord Front, the major representative of the Iraqi Arab Sunnis which has 44 seats in the Iraqi Parliament. These accusations came amid an escalating political crisis in Iraq with the withdrawal of all ministers from the Iraqi Accord Front, The Iraqi List (Ayad Allawi) and the Sadrists from Al-Maliki’s government which is currently on the brink of collapse.
First of all, the style of language used to write this letter is a sort of regression to a bygone era, to the age of Islamic expansion during the Khilafa days or under the rule of Umayyad or Abbasid dynasties approximately ten centuries ago. So it will immediately take your mind to a period where conflicts and wars were the only options to deal with unresolved issues and threats. It is an open invitation for a confrontational war between the “Sunni Arab” world with “Safawi Iran” and as usual the battle ground is Iraq, the land of Mesopotamia. In such a nightmarish scenario, there is no place for pure Iraqi identity and voice. On the contrary, the only path that Iraqis should follow is to ally themselves with each side of the conflict along sectarian lines. Another important point in that letter was the terminology used to describe Iranians (Safawis, Persians and Zoroastrians). It is quite clear that he is referring not only to the Iranian regime but to Iran the people as well. This will shift the conflict from pure politically-motivated one for the sake of regional domination to a clash of ideologies between the two nations. Like the Iran-Iraq war, when it was portrayed as war of identity, history, ideology and culture but the reality was far from that. It was a confrontation between two rogue authoritarian regimes trying to impose their agendas on the region. The other impression that the letter gives is that “Arab Sunnis” are the sole victims of assassinations, deportation and mass killings in today’s Iraq, excluding the Shih’a and other Iraqi communities from such miseries. He also intentionally avoided mentioning the Americans and their role in this conflict as the major power that holds the keys for any political or military change in the future of Iraq.
Finally I would like to emphasize that accusing the Iraqi Shih’a of disloyalty to their country and to question their identity; this will deprive our right to keep Iraq as a unified country. With nearly 50% Shih’a population in Iraq labelled as “Ajam” and pro-Iranian and 25% Kurds and other minority groups loyal to their own nationalities and ethnic origin, we should stop being proud of belonging to a common Iraqi identity.

To read Addulaimi’s letter, click on the link below: