Modern Iraq is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic state. In this regard, a number of conflicts of various scale have been noted in the country. After the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the confrontation between Shiites and Sunnis came to the fore, outlined in the first years of the existence of Iraq. The Shiite majority, which under Saddam suffered from oppression, with the advent of US troops actually came to power in the country, which caused dissatisfaction with previously Sunnis. As a result, in 2006-2007, an outbreak of violence by Sunni militants was noted in the country, resulting in significant casualties among the civilian population. In response, Shiite groups attacked the Sunnis, destroyed their mosques and carried out purges. The country actually turned out to be split along religious lines: the Shiite south is a Sunni center. According to the UN, in 2006 alone, 34,000 civilians were killed. The international coalition forces stationed in Iraq, and especially the US troops, took an active part in the fight against Sunni militants.
The conflict seriously hindered the restoration of the country's economy and the renewal of the political system (the Sunnis, in particular, boycotted parliamentary elections and local authorities). Only in 2008, the number of terrorist attacks and attacks by militants began to decline, which is due, first of all, to a change in the position of the Sunnis who became convinced of the inefficiency of the armed struggle and began to gradually integrate into the political system. Another serious internal split in Iraq is ethnic. Parties to this confrontation are the Arabs, who inhabit the central and southern regions of Iraq, and the Kurds, who live in the north of the country. Territorial disputes, and then disagreements over the sharing of oil revenues, have repeatedly led to wars and armed clashes during the second half of the 20th century, accompanied by massive casualties. Currently, the danger of armed conflict between the central government and the Iraqi Kurdistan authorities remains, as the Kurds claim a number of disputed areas near the borders of autonomy. The conflict can seriously affect the economy of the whole country, since large oil deposits are concentrated in the north of Iraq and active production is underway. Kurds are one of the key links in the ruling coalition, disagreements between them and the central government often impede the work of parliament, and an open conflict with them can call into question the stability of the current political regime.
The Iraqi government also has to fight the al-Qaeda terrorists operating in the country, as well as the radical Shiite army, Mahdi, led by Imam Muktad al-Sadr. In this confrontation, the US troops and their coalition allies are actively helping the authorities. The Gini coefficient for Iraq has not been calculated, but low living standards and large income differences are a serious problem for this country. The middle class is practically absent. Iraq is undergoing a religious rebirth, and religious leaders, especially Shiite ones, are having an ever-increasing political influence. The dynamic interaction between religion and politics in Iraq is mysterious for some outside observers, but worries others. The role of religion in governance has become particularly noticeable now that the process of writing a new Iraqi constitution is ongoing. These and other issues were addressed on December 17, 2003, at a US Peace Institute seminar entitled “Religious Politics in Iraq, Part II,” which was based on an earlier seminar on this topic.
The seminar was delivered by Faleh Jabar, senior researcher at the Institute and author of the book “Shiite Movement in Iraq” and editor of the book “Ayatollahs, Sufis and Ideologists: State, Religion and Social Movements in Iraq”; Amaziya Baram, senior fellow at the Institute for Relations between the State and Mosques in Iraq, professor of Middle East history at the University of Haifa, and author of works on religious political parties in Iraq; and Ahmed al-Rahim, who teaches Arabic at Harvard University and works in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The moderator of the seminar was David Smok, director of the Institute “Religion and Peacemaking Initiative”. The opinions set forth below reflect the course of the discussion at the meeting; they do not reflect the official positions taken by the institute, which does not advocate a specific policy.
Religious rebirth in the making
Contrary to common understanding, the religious revival in Iraq began more than ten years ago. This was partially implemented as the political survival strategy of Saddam Hussein, who initiated the “Faith Campaign” in 1993. The government printed and distributed five million copies of the Qur'an, built large and expensive mosques (mainly Sunni), and in 1994 Sharia was introduced into the Iraqi criminal code. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein allowed this revival to gain a new impetus, especially among the Shiites, but there has been an increase in religiosity in all parts of Iraq. The Shiite community has four or five ayatollahs that are highly valued and should be taken very seriously, especially the Coalition Provisional Administration (CPA) and the Board of Governors.The most important of these is the great Ayatollah Ali Muhammad Sistani. Sistani does not protect the Islamic Republic or Iranian-style clerical rules. But he believes that religious leaders should be closely consulted on critical political issues. The current stagnation in the election process and the writing of the constitution arose mainly because the CPA’s latest plan came as a surprise to Sistani, who then resolutely opposed him.
Shiite majority and Iraqi constitution
However, the leaders of Sistani and other Shiites opposed to the Islamic Republic want a form of democratic government that fully expresses the Shiite demographic majority. Moreover, they want Islam to play a role in new forms of government. There is probably no way to escape the provision in the Iraqi constitution, which states that Islam is a state religion that is part of constitutions throughout the Arab world and has been incorporated into all previous Iraqi constitutions. This leaves open the question of what this provision means in practice. Sistani is also likely to propose that Sharia be one of the sources of Iraqi law. A much more problematic proposal, which extremists will advocate for, is that Sharia should be the only source of legislation. Muktada Sadr is a more menacing Islamist. He is trying to establish the dominance of his family tradition, based mainly on the status of his late father, over other prominent Shiite religious families. Muqtada fights for the spiritual excellence of the Al-Sadr family. As with other Shiite movements, these revival efforts are based primarily on the fact that the family has created networks of charitable organizations and newcomers. Based on a theme developed by his father, Muktada used anti-American sentiment as a united cry. On the whole, however, his rhetoric is contradictory and confusing. He is influenced by his mentor Ayatollah Kazim Khairi, a radical from Iran. Such as Muktada Sadr, who advocates a clerical role, will not win in political competition. Although Islamic values must be recognized in any new constitution, there is a reasonable chance that this constitution recognizes the separation of religion and state. The separation of religion and state is supported by some liberal Shiite priests.
Religion is not the only factor
The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (WIRI), headed first by Muhammad Bakir al-Hakim, who was recently killed and now his younger brother, adopted a pragmatic program of cooperation with the KVA and is involved in the governing council. He declares his attitude to the Navy as a relation of "peaceful resistance." Most Shiites consider their religion a private affair, which should not intrude on state affairs and government. But this part of the population was not mobilized and is largely ignored by the KVA. When political parties appear, Shiites will be divided into several political movements. The Shiite community is not a monolith, and in addition to various relations with religion and the state, it is divided into families and regions, urban and rural, as well as secular and religious. Religion will continue to be one of the main factors of Iraqi politics among all communities, but especially among Shiites.
As the Sunnis return to political discourse, the religious voices of the Sunnis will also be heard, ranging from the pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood to ultra-radical Salafists, some of whom are Wahhabis. Although they were not as persistent as religious forces, secular Iraqis, especially among the urban middle class, are numerous and as they become louder, they will increase moderate secularism. The Iraqi constitution does not have a clearly defined official ideology, however, an analysis of the text shows that such can be considered a liberal ideology, focused on building democracy in the country and incorporating elements of Islamic doctrine. Indications of this are found in the preamble to the constitution, which states that a “republican, federal, democratic, pluralistic system” will be created in Iraq. At the same time, the text notes that the constitution is based on “divine revelations” (for Muslims it is the Koran), and only then are “the achievements of science and human civilization” mentioned. The prominent role of religion in the formation of the official ideological doctrine is also evidenced by the fact that the constitution (part 1, paragraph 2) proclaims Islam the state religion and the basis of legislation. In addition, the constitution guarantees the “Islamic identity” of the majority of the population of Iraq. It should be noted that the current leadership of Iraq is dominated by moderate Shiite Islamists (the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Call Party).
They, according to some estimates, intend, after the withdrawal of coalition forces, due to the numerical superiority of Shiites, to achieve by political means the transformation of Iraq into an "Islamic republic." Despite references to Islam in the constitution, there remains a conflict in Iraq between moderate authorities and Islamic radicals who consider the current leaders of the country to be Westernizers and accomplices of the occupiers. Since 2003, a conflict has continued between the Government of Iraq and the local cell of the al-Qaida international terrorist network. The aim of the extremists is to create an Islamic state by armed means in Iraq. In 2007-2008, the authorities, with the support of US troops and militias of the Sunni tribes, managed to achieve a noticeable decrease in the activity of al-Qaeda militants in the central regions of the country, but the terrorists relocated to the north, where the city of Mosul became their stronghold. In 2004, a conflict broke out between the country's authorities and the Shiite group “Mahdi Army” (the leader is the radical imam Muktad al-Sadr), whose leadership seeks to turn Iraq into a theocratic state of Iranian style. On the account of the "Mahdists" there are dozens of major terrorist attacks against the Sunnis, government forces and troops of the international coalition. Supporters of al-Sadr controlled large areas in southern Iraq and part of Baghdad, known as Sadr City. In March - April 2007, government forces conducted a large-scale military operation against militants of the Mahdi Army in Basra. After that, the armed activity of the sadrists fell sharply.
97% of Iraqis are Muslims (60–65% are Shiites, 32–37% are Sunnis), and the rest of the population professes various forms of the Christian religion (Nestorians, Chaldeans, Gregorians).
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