In what is perhaps one of the important steps towards a free Iraq the leading Shi’ite slate of candidates has endorsed a secular Iraq:
The senior leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of mostly Shiite groups that is poised to capture the most votes in the election next Sunday, have agreed that the Iraqi whom they nominate to be the country’s next prime minister would be a lay person, not an Islamic cleric.
The Shiite leaders say there is a similar but less formal agreement that clerics will also be excluded from running the government ministries.
“There will be no turbans in the government,” said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party, one of the largest Shiite parties. “Everyone agrees on that.”
The decision appears to formalize the growing dominance of secular leaders among the Shiite political leadership, and it also reflects an inclination by the country’s powerful religious hierarchy to stay out of the day-to-day governing of the country. Among the Shiite coalition’s 228 candidates for the national assembly, fewer than a half dozen are clerics, according to the group’s leaders.
The decision to exclude clerics from the government appears to mean that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric who is the chief of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the scion of a prominent religious family and an oft-mentioned candidate for prime minister, would be relegated to the background. The five Shiites most likely to be picked as prime minister are well-known secular figures.
This is crucial, because the Shiite slate of candidates is likely to hold a majority in the upcoming elections, and there have been worries that the Shi’ites would try to create a Shi’a theocracy in Iraq. However, it is important to note that the Iraqi Shi’a and the Iranian Shi’a descend from two entirely different strains of Shi’a religious thought. The Qom strain, as exemplified by Ayatollah Khomeini and Khameini believes that the only legitimate form of government is a theocratic government.
However, the leader of the Iraqi Shi’a population, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, descends from the Najaf strain of Shi’a Islam, a strain of Shi’a thought that had been suppressed by the Iranian mullahcracy and Saddam Hussein’s brutalization of the Iraqi Shi’a. The Najaf strain of Shi’a Islam teaches in the separation of the earthly and the sacred — that theocracy is not the only form of government and that democratic rule and Islam are compatible. This belief made Ayatollah Sistani somewhat of an outsider among the Shi’a at the madrassas of Qom, where Sistani was a contemporary of Ayatollah Khomeini.
This move by the Iraqi Shi’a indicates a fundamental willingness to embrace democratic rule and a secular Iraq. If the Shi’a list holds to this promise, it means that the future of Iraq will not lie in theocratic oppression, but in a homegrown Islamic democracy. The participation of Iraqi Shi’a is absolutely critical to the future of a democractic Iraq – fortunately they understand this as well and are willing to do what it takes to move Iraq into the future rather than an idealized past.