Saturday, December 22, 2007

Driving While Shia

Many Western analysts suffered from being prone to parroting Sunni predjudice against Shias when looking at Iraq's Shia community. Shias, said the Sunnis, were mere pawns of Iran:

Many Western analysts shared these views, and commented that while America had liberated the country from Saddam's dictatorship, Tehran would prove the real power broker in the new Iraq. A minority of analysts (Reuel Marc Gerecht in these pages among them) rejected this view. They argued that an independent Shiite religious leadership would flourish in Iraq, and ultimately come to challenge Khamenei's power over Shiites across the region, even in Iran itself.

So far, the minority view is prevailing, as the leaders of Iraqi Shiism have asserted their independence from Iranian authority. The reemergence of Iraq's Shiite leadership comes as the Iranian regime, having dropped all but the thinnest pretense of democracy, now stands only on the religious claims of authority made by Ali Khamenei. And there are indications that many Iranians reject these claims.

The majority view made it easy for war opponents to insist that overthrowing Saddam was a giant favor to the Iranians. Piffle.

I was always in the minority position here. Having written a manuscript on the Iran-Iraq War some years ago (which I came close to selling but no cigar. See a summary here), it was clear to see that Iraq's Shias proved able to slug it out and bleed for Arab (but Sunni ruled) Iraq against Shia (but Persian) Iran for eight long years. Some Iraqis would seek Iranian support, of course, but there was no automatic allegiance involved.

Most Arabists suffer from viewing Shias through the distorting lens of the hate, fear, and loathing that Sunnis have for Shias. Instead of looking for reasons to mistrust our Shia allies in Iraq, shouldn't we be looking to parlay that good will into an advantage in the wider Shia world? Play our cards right and we could see a Shia realignment in our favor. Even in Iran.

Bigotry is an ugly thing to hold dear, even if you think it is only the pursuit of stability.