Saturday, August 25

Get two Iraqis together, you immediately have 10 different opinions

Today Iraq Slogger's Chris Allbritton gives a crash course on Iraqi religious styles that is helpful to understanding the chaos in Iraq politics:
Islam -- and Sunni Islam especially -- isn't like the Catholic Church with a hierarchy that locks in place obedience to Church dogma. A fatwa issued by Imam Ahmed al-Kubaisi is valuable, but many Sunnis will not feel bound by this. A lot of Sunnis don't follow any one imam and often go for a "second opinion" if they come across a religious ruling they don't like.

Shi'ites are more hierarchal inclined -- there is no doubt Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the most senior Shi'ite leader in Iraq -- but they're not monolithic. Many Shi'ites revere Sistani as their marja, or advisor, but many also do not. If they don't follow Sistani, and most followers of Moqtada al-Sadr don't, they don't have to listen to his fatwas. He's also an Iranian by birth so anything coming from his mouth will do little to convince nationalist Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the Sunni insurgency
All this is oddly comforting; it suggests that many Iraqis are an independent minded lot. However, Allbritton's explanation throws light on why Iraqi religious leaders who call for an end to violence between the sects haven't made headway.

So what's the tiebreaker? Business profits, probably. Allbritton mentions elsewhere in his Saturday summary that the "Mahdi Army has gone into numerous businesses around Baghdad and now controls 70 percent of the city's gas stations."

War may be good for business, but constant turmoil isn't. Given enough freedom, people eventually decide it's better to make buckets of money than war. However, we're not there yet. Much of the sectarian warfare comes from a Shiite grab for business that the Sunnis had previously dominated. It's like the wars for land in America's Wild West.

So there is really no way for the US to stop the bloodshed until the new business cartels have emerged. In the meantime a strong central government, with US help, can put a lid on the worst violence.

Can Iraq's religious leaders help? Well, if they get on the same page and put out a strong united front. Will hell freeze first? Maybe not, if US commanders manage to convey to the various religious leaders that the US military is not the Golden Goose.

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