Monday, October 06, 2003

Iraqi Shi'ite Politics

Juan Cole has a post suggesting that the Sadriyun are gaining support in southern Iraq's tribal areas. I haven't looked at this situation in awhile, so briefly: Muqtada Sadr is the son of an ayatollah martyred under Saddam's regime. He is staking a claim to religious leadership of Iraq's Shi'ites, among whom he has taken the strong anti-American line. His faction is not precisely orthodox Usuli Shi'ism, maintaining for example that people should continue to follow Ayatollah Sadr's rulings, when mainstream Usulis oppose following the rulings of a dead jurist. Sadr is also young, probably about 30, and has not built much in the way of religious credentials. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the leading figure of the more traditional main clerical extablishement in Najaf.

Today I went to a lecture by Jonathan Berkey, who discussed the changes in the modern ulama, with people coming into religious leadership through non-traditional means. It struck me that Muqtada Sadr represents just that type of leader, and so might be an interesting case study. Another thing I wonder about is just where the traditional tribal structures are in all this. I currently have checked out of the library Yitzhak Nakash's The Shi'is of Iraq, though I haven't gotten far with it yet. At the point where I last read, a rift opened between the tribal shaykhs and the Najaf clerics in the early twentieth century, and there were suggestions this continued under the Ba'ath. However, it was rural tribal action that came to Sistani's rescue in the spring when the Sadriyun tried to force him out.

I shall seek to learn more...


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