Friday, December 22

Economic class, as much as religious affiliation, drives political rivalries in Iraq

In Karrada, a mostly Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of large, tan houses owned by educated professionals and bureaucrats, the trim-bearded Hakim smiles from a large billboard in front of his headquarters. […] Less than a mile away in a bustling, working-class section of Karrada, in a poster hanging in a grimy sidewalk restaurant, the thick-bearded Sadr weeps.(1)
Let’s not get so carried away with Shiite-Sunni rivalries that we overlook how class differences are playing out in Iraq’s political struggles. The Bush administration sees Abdul Aziz al-Hakim as a moderate and Moqtada al-Sadr as an extremist. But the labels say as much about economic status as militancy because both Shiite leaders command a militia.

The other day Dave Schuler sent me a New York Times December 20 article on Hakim’s efforts to forge a coalition of moderate Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, and which points up the power that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani still wields in Iraq’s political process. Yesterday Dave published the article alongside a December 21 Washington Post article that looks at the rivalry between Hakim and Sadr, and which calls into question the extent of Sistani’s power at this juncture.(1)

The Times tends to favor reporting on the CIA analysis of things, and the Post tends to reflect the analysis of the US Department of State. Yet both articles clearly indicate that the democratic process of maneuvering for compromise among rival factions and deal-making is alive and well in Iraq; this, despite the insurgency and rampages of the militias.

Political events are moving very fast in Iraq. The Times article (filed December 19) noted Sadr’s boycott of the Parliament. By the 21st, the Associated Press reported that Sadr had ended the three-week boycott – surely as a maneuver to present himself as more moderate, as a challenge to Hakim’s moderate stance. From the Times article:
Since Mr. Sadr’s loyalists began boycotting the government last month, the Parliament has been unable to form a quorum, preventing the passage of laws. [Hakim's] new coalition is aimed at circumventing that kind of conflict, its leaders say, which is probably why Ayatollah Sistani is willing to lend his support.
Clearly, Mookie no longer wants to be seen as an obstructionist -- at least not for the time being.

1) The quote is from The Washington Post’s article mentioned above. See The Glittering Eye post Three Clerics for links to the Times and Post pieces. Both articles are worth the read for background on events this January, which could take a dramatic turn when Bush announces a revised policy on dealing with Iraq’s insurgency.

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