The startling explosion of Shiite passion in Iraq is forcing US
officials to contemplate the possibility that by toppling Saddam
Hussein they have made the region safe for theocracy rather than
There are many reasons to believe that Iraq will not end up as a
mullah-controlled state - the next Iran. Shiites, while a majority
in Iraq, must still strike some governing arrangement with sizable
Sunni Muslim and Kurdish minorities. Iraqi Shiites are themselves
split over how much religion should be intertwined with civil
But at the least the end of Mr. Hussein's police state has opened
a land bridge between Iran's ruling clerics and Hizbullah and other
Shiite-dominated terror groups to the west. The new boldness of
Iraq's religious leaders could inspire long-oppressed Shiite
populations from Syria to Saudi Arabia.
"Suddenly the Shia are feeling their time in history has
arrived," says Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at
American University in Washington.
On Wednesday Shiites celebrated the final day of their pilgrimage
to a holy shrine in the central Iraqi city of Karbala. The
pilgrimage was long banned by Saddam Hussein, who also murdered many
leading Shiite clerics and brutally suppressed an uprising in the
Shiite-dominated south of the country following the end of the Gulf
War of 1991.
The pilgrimage has been marked by an eruption of piety among the
faithful, and by chants of anti-Hussein, anti-American, and anti-
Asked about the demonstrations, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner,
civil head of Iraq until a new government is established, said
Wednesday that they were evidence of the new freedom that Iraqis
have to dissent. He also said a number of them were staged -
presumably by Iranian agents said to have infiltrated Iraq in the
wake of US forces."A majority of the people realize we're only going
to stay here long enough to start a democratic government for them,"
General Garner said.
Shiites are a minority in Islam as a whole, making up some 10 to
20 percent of all Muslims. They believe that Islam's leader should
be a descendant of the prophet Mohammed, while the majority Sunni
branch of Islam has held that the religion's leader should be chosen
In Iraq, Shiites are a majority of around 60 percent. Yet Sunnis
have dominated the country from its founding in the wake of World
War I through Hussein's tyranny.
Prior to the invasion of Iraq US officials seemed most worried
that it was the Kurds, in the north, who would be the country's most
independence-minded population. CIA and Special Forces officials did
try to make contact with Shiite leaders, but had only moderate
One Shiite cleric who was working with the US, Abdul Majid Khoei,
was murdered in Najaf earlier this month after returning to the
country from exile in London. …