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August 12, 2005
Separatists Demand Independence For Southern Iraq

The political situation in Iraq took a difficult turn while the country awaits the draft constitution from its first popularly-elected Assembly in decades. Shi'ites invoking the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini demanded a secession of southern Iraq in order to form an Iranian-influenced puppet state and used Najaf as the protest staging point:

Waving posters of Iran's late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, thousands of chanting Shiite Muslims signaled approval for a call Thursday by their leaders for a separate Shiite federal state in central and southern Iraq.

The demand by one of the government's dominant Shiite religious parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, came five days before a draft of Iraq's new constitution is due. The call, which triggered immediate protests by Sunni Muslim leaders and some Shiite officials, capped increasingly assertive moves by the party to influence the new Iraq as it takes shape. ...

"This was a shock," Salih Mutlak, the most vocal Sunni on the committee drafting Iraq's constitution, said Thursday after the Najaf rally. "You are giving Iraq to the Iranians."

"We hoped this day would never come," Mutlak separately told the Reuters news agency. "We believe that the Arabs, whether Sunni or Shiite, are one. We totally reject any attempt to stir up sectarian issues to divide Iraq."

The spokesman for Jafari, whose Shiite Dawa party is both government partner and political rival with the Supreme Council, also rejected Thursday's call. "The idea of a Shiite region is unacceptable to us," Laith Kubba told Reuters.

Obviously the idea has appeal to the demonstrators in Najaf, but in a country where well over half of the 26 million people follow the Shi'a, a rally with a few thousand people does not necessarily hold significant meaning. Not even acknowledged Iranian puppet Moqtada al-Sadr has openly called for such a move, although he has supported the idea of federalism mixed with autonomy for a Shi'ite sector in the region. The most influential Iraqi ayatollah and the one who commands by far the most loyalty, Ali al-Sistani, has categorically ruled out secession, demanding a unified Iraq, although perhaps somewhat federalist.

That demand appears unlikely to change, and ironically, Najaf provides the reason for his tenacity. Sistani practices "quiet" Shi'ism, a philosophical version that has its teachings based in Najaf. During the long period of Sunni minority rule, this philosophy was deliberatly oppressed along with all other expressions of Shi'ism in Iraq. The "quiet" school demands a more spiritual and less temporal faith of its adherents, and its practitioners tend to divorce themselves from political power as corrupting. On the other hand, the more activist Qumian Shi'ism from Iran (based in the city of Qum) demands that religion become highly temporal and integrated into the politics of Islam as well as the spiritual lives of its adherents.

Sistani has waited decades for Najaf to free itself of Sunni domination so that he can revive the Shi'ite philosophy to which he adheres. The last thing he wants is to watch Najaf move from Sunni domination to Qumian domination with an Iranian annexation, in practice if not in fact. The demonstration for secession will not progress much farther than this.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 12, 2005 6:18 AM

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