Leadership: The Smart Money is on the Chiefs

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November 12, 2007: Iran is running into a lot of problems as it attempts to turn Iraq into an "Islamic Republic." While there are two (Badr Brigade and various Sadr led groups) major pro-Iranian Shia militias in Iraq, most Iraqis are not enthusiastic about adopting the Iranian model of government. Neither are most (about 80 percent) of Iranians. The Iraqis have noted this, as well as how the Iranian clergy use force to impose their will. Transplanting this model to Iraq has run up against several obstacles that are not present in Iran.

First, there is the fact that, while most Iraqis practice the same form of Islam (Shiism) as nearly all Iranians, they are also acutely aware that they are Arabs, and the Iranians are not. The Iranians belong to the Indo-European culture that stretches from Ireland to eastern India (not to mention the Americas, which are primarily populated by Indo-Europeans.) The Arabs and Iranians have never gotten along well, despite thousands of years of trade, and some inter-marriage. Let's just say there's not a lot of mutual trust and respect.

But the most formidable obstacle to a Shia religious dictatorship in Iraq is the hundreds of tribal leaders that, even under Saddam, often operated as a separate government. The tribal chiefs and elders were often called on to settle commercial and family disputes. The courts could be corrupted, but this was much less likely with the elders of your tribe. In other words, it's easier to screw a stranger, than a kinsman. Iraqis depend on their tribal leadership.

The Iraqi Shia clergy are the big proponents of a religious dictatorship in Iraq. Many of these clergy have set themselves up as local leaders. Some religious leaders mediate disputes, but they do so without the deep understanding of everyone's family background. Moreover, there has long been tension between tribal and religious leaders. The tribal chiefs tend to be more flexible, while the religious leaders are hung up on theological absolutes. Over the past few years, the pro-Iranian militias have backed religious leaders intent on forcing everyone to live the strict life. This has not been popular, and now tribal leaders are marshalling that resentment into armed resistance to the Islamic conservatives and pro-Iranian groups. A showdown is approaching between the tribal chiefs and radical religious leaders. The smart money is on the chiefs.

 


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