Monday, March 31, 2008

All Roads Lead to Qom

Qom is a holy city in Iran and the largest center for Shia scholarship in the world. It is also a popular destination of pilgrimage. On Sunday, two Shia visitors were in town, coming all the way from Baghdad. They were not only on pilgrimage to the tomb of Hazart Fatemeh Masoumeh, but they also wanted to bring a quick end to the fighting with Mahdi Army. The two representatives of Iraq’s governing Dawa party and Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) were to strike a deal with Moqtada Al Sadr, the spiritual leader of Mahdi Army, currently studying in Qom to reach ijtehad, becoming capable of interpreting religious matters.

The dramatic result of the visit by Ali Al Adeeb, of Dawa party, and Hadi Al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of ISCI, was the declaration by Moqtada Al Sadr on Sunday that brought an end to the fighting between the warring Shia factions in Basra, Baghdad and other southern Iraqi towns.

Nuri Al Maliki and his government had gambled and lost. Their security forces, consisting mostly of Badr militias, wanted to defeat Mahdi Army in Basra but could not. Their representatives were in Qom to put an end to an embarrassing situation for the government and strike a truce. Basra and Baghdad were mostly quite today.

The episode demonstrated some striking realities in today’s Iraq.

- Badr and Dawa are loosing grounds to Mahdi Army among the Shia faithful. Badr and Dawa are identified with a government in Baghdad widely regarded as weak and corrupt. The extremist ideology that Mahdi Army represents can flourish facing opponents seen as weak and corrupt.
- Iran has become the dominant force in southern Iraq. The Iraqi visitors met in Qom with senior Iranian military officers, including the commander of Qods Force, the foreign Islamic revolutionary arm of IRGC. Both Shia factions are supported by Qods Force and Iran’s pressure must have been critical to Sadr’s declaration.
- US reliance on the present Iraqi government to bring about the transition to security and democracy in Iraq is a miscalculation. The people who control the government are themselves part of the problem, a sectarian Shia faction masqurading as central government. As hard as it is, the formation of a truly democratic government in Baghdad is the only way forward.

1 comment:

Joseph Sixpack said...

Hmmm. I suspect that Sadr is probably working harder towards getting to level 23 in space invaders on his Atari than studying his Koran.

Regarding Qom and it's status as a city or religious scholarship - do you think that the Iranians are concerned about Najaf and Karbala regaining their stature as cities of Shia scholarship and Qom losing some of its prestige? Would this undercut the ability of the Supreme Leader / Guardian Council to claim to be the authoritative voice of Shia?