08/27/2004, 00.00
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Al Sistani and Al Sadr: two differing visions of Iraq

by Bernardo Cervellera

For Abdelkarim Hashem, Shi'ite SCIRI representative and current Iraqi ambassador in Moscow, the peaceful invasion of Najaf by Al Sistani supporters is the expression of "a plebiscite" in favour of the new government of Iraq, while Moqtada al Sadr is part of the wreckage left over from the days of Saddam Hussein.

 Rome (AsiaNews): Ayatollah al Sistani's intervention in the Najaf crisis is beginning to bear fruit: arms remain silent in the holy city; Al Sadr's militiamen are relinquishing their weapons and exiting the Imam Ali Shrine, under the cover of the enormous crowds that gathered in reply to Ayatollah al Sistani's call.  However, Al Sistani's intervention is, above all, of enormous support to the new Iraq and the forthcoming elections.  The only option left to Moqtada al Sadr and his easy anti-Americanism is political activism.  These are just a few of the considerations made by Adelkarim Hashem, a well-known Shi'ite figure, in an analysis for AsiaNews on the "Najaf Peace".  Abdelkarim Hasem, aged 46, is from Kerbala and, until last July 10, was the representative in Paris of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, a coaltion of Shi'ite parties in Iraq, which  in the past included among its members the late Ayatollah al Hakim, killed in Najaf in August 2003.  On July 10, Abdelkarim Hashem was named as Iraq's new ambassador in Moscow.   He recently returned from Baghdad to Paris where he is preparing for his departure to Russia and where AsiaNews reached him for a telephone interview.

What sense the does the comparison between Al Sistanti and Al Sadr give?

Najaf is yet another example of two opposing visions in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein: one vision is of a legalistic nature, which supports the new Iraq and its new institutions; it operates to equip Iraq with a liberal democractic government, but one that is strong enough to ensure the safety of its citizens.  The other vision is completely contrary to the first and has ultimately no political project: it operates for chaos, under pretenses that are more or less acceptable, such as the departure of Americans from Iraq...  We are all against the American presence: what Iraqi wants his country occupied?  However, the conditions for their departure must be set up.  Today, we have a sovereign government, an Iraqi government, with police forces and a new-born military force.  These forces, however, need support.  The Americans cannot leave from one day to the next, but everyone wants them to leave, including Americans themselves. 

In the comparison between Al Sistani and Al Sadr, are there not two different ways of seeing Islam?

It's not a question of two Islams.  The Islam that is expressed in Iraq is an Islam of peace, coexistence, brotherhood, a humane Islam.  There are rather two visions of the state in Iraq.  Al Sadr's draws back to Saddam Hussein.  Al Sadr's father was the only religious leader who could preach in Iraq.  Only he could lead services on Friday and was tollerated by Saddam.  It was forbidden for all others to preach.  Al Sistani himself had been imprisoned by Saddam.  Instead, Moqtada Al Sadr's father, Muhammad al Sadr, began gaining power under Saddam.  This leads to two visions: one that supports the new institutions and the other that wants to go backwards.  The conditions that Al Sistani gave Moqtada Al Sadr are exactly the same as those given to him by the Allawi government, with the addition of a single, final element: preparations for a census and new elections in Iraq.

Al Sistani's vision is perfectly in line with goverment plans.  Al Sistani is counting very much on January elections.  The government has set a census for October.

What's in store for Al Sadr?

In official terms, Iraq's new institutions are tollerant enough to sustain opposition.  If he wants to set up an opposition party, he can impose himself politically.  But Iraq has no room for armed opposition.  But will he be able to do this?  I have my doubts.  He represents a faction that is lacking a political project.  To set up a party, you must have at least a political project.

Western and Arab media have been flattering Al Sadr as a revolutionary, a resistor...  What is Al Sadr's influence in Iraq?  Does he really have a following?

Unfortunately, Al Sadr is very much pampered by the West and by Arab media.  Especially the Arab media, which has suffered a great deal because of the Americans, and does whatever possible so that someone fights against the Americans.  They are constantly on the lookout for some hero to fight them because they see the harm done by the Americans in supporting Israel in the region.

Arab media saw Saddam Hussein as an anti-American hero and took no interest in the suffering of the Iraqi people.... And now, Arab media has shifted this image to Moqtada al Sadr.  But if you check with an Iraqi, you will find that he has nothing against the Americans: he suffered for 35 years under Saddam's regime and wants to live in peace.  Of course, he's against the so-called "resistance", that blows up the oil pipelines which could otherwise bring money to the Iraqis.  He is against those who savagely kill our foreign friends who come to Iraq to help the population, as in the case of Baldoni.  He's against the resistance that cuts high-tension and electricity lines...  Putting car-bombs near Churches, killing innocent by-standers, women, children on their way to school...: all this is not resistance.

Unfortunately, there are minorities in Iraq who prospered under the former regime, who took hold of weapons and are carrying out savage acts.  But, today, it was clear: the majority of Shi'ites support Al Sistani; everyone took to the streets in a peaceful manner; tens of thousands marched to support Al Sistani and the new regime in Iraq.  It was clearly a plebiscite in favour of the government.

The "Najaf Peace" will put an end to Iraq's problems?

There will still be problems but, by now, the process is on the right track and will go forward.  New government structures are up and running day by day.  As of today, there are Iraqi soldiers and police in Najaf.  Several months ago, when there were problems in Kerbala, there was still no Iraqi police.  It's true: they are still supported by the American army, but today Iraqi instruments of power at least exist.  And they have the clear and unequivocal blessing of the Great Ayatollah al Sistani.



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See also
Moqtada al-Sadr and the self-delusion of Europeans and Arabs
Security reasons cut size of delegation from national conference to Najaf
Elections in January "major blow" against terrorists, Iraqi Prime minister says
Violence to stop al-Sistani's march on Najaf
Al-Sistani forces al-Sadr to lay down his weapons


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