in Iraq ponder upon Islamic
state amid vacuum:
is the answer, but will the Muslims give their
lives for the rewarding cause?
The Reality on the Ground!
ponder Islamic state amid vacuum
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
When local authority fell apart in the Baghdad district
of Aadhamiya, clerics at the mosque of Abu Hanifah took
it on themselves to start restoring order to the war-torn
Like other mosques around the capital and the Muslim-dominated
country, the eighth-century Sunni religious centre soon
became a rallying point for Iraqis coming to grips with
the collapse of three decades of draconian one-party
But the Muslim leaders' growing political role has
raised sensitive questions: how much power will they
have in post-war Iraq? And could they ultimately create
an Islamic state under strict Sharia law - realising
one of Washington's worst fears?
At the Abu Hanifah mosque, Sheikh Muayid Al Adhami
says a small council of sheikhs and notables is already
helping to organise burials, security patrols and teams
of street cleaners - effectively acting as a local government.
"We are trying to bring some order to the situation,"
That clearly strikes a chord with a population fumbling
in the vacuum left by U.S-led forces who toppled the
regime of Saddam Hussain but have yet to install an
What is not clear is how many people support the clerics
purely out of a short-term desire for order and how
many have a serious interest in establishing Islamic
rule like in neighbouring Iran, analysts say.
Calls for an Islamic state are certainly loud enough
to catch the attention. Last week, tens of thousands
of protesters poured out of mosques and into the streets
calling for Islamic rule after the first Friday prayers
since U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad.
Many of the protesters came from the Abu Hanifah mosque.
"It wouldn't seem surprising to me that in this
power vacuum, or period of uncharted territory or shock
... that some people would call for the antithesis of
what existed before," said Amy Hawthorne, Middle
East specialist at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for
Some Islamic groups have started spray-painting slogans
on city walls, an unthinkable activity under Saddam's
secular Baat-hist rule.
As Iraqis - about 60 per cent of whom are Shiites -
come to terms with Saddam's downfall, such groups find
plenty of support on Baghdad streets, where there has
been no electric power for days and buildings stand
ransacked by looters.
"Of course an Islamic state is necessary. If there
was an Islamic state there would not be stealing. There
would not be chaos," said Zaid Al Hashemi, a 35-year-old
Shiite stuck in traffic with his veiled wife in the
back of their car.
Yet others, looking across the border at Iran, describe
an Islamic state as a step backwards.
"They (supporters) don't know what an Islamic
state is. The Islamic state would just be Saddam Hussain
again. We don't want a state like Iran, and the Americans
won't accept a second Iran," said Daoud Khalaf,
a 40-year-old teacher who says he is a practising Shiite
The prospect of a Shiite theocracy would ring alarm
bells not only in Washington, said James Phillips, Middle
East expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative
"If the Shiites tried to impose an Islamic state
on the Sunnis, they would be strongly opposed. And I
think neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Jordan - which are
predominantly Sunni - would be strongly tempted to intervene
on behalf of their Sunni Arab brothers," Phillips
Such a government could stir civil conflict in Iraq
between the Shiite majority and the Sunnis, who have
traditionally held the reins of power, he added.
Many Iraqis dismiss such concerns about sectarian strife.
"There is no difference between Shia and Sunni,
we are all Muslim. We are against Saddam, who was an
American agent anyway," said Hussein Hassan, 41,
standing in a cheering crowd trying to burn a huge poster
of their ex-president.
But such voices of unity, born of mutual hatred of
Saddam, may become more muted as the tricky job of ruling
a state of different sects, religions and ethnic groups
begins. It is also far from obvious whether those calling
for an Islamic state have a clear idea of what it would
Mohammed Ali, a 33-year-old driver, said he backed
the idea, but went on to say he wanted "a state
like Syria and Jordan" - one Saddam's great Baathist
rival, the other a pro-Western monarchy.
"I think a big part of the crowd is just responding
to the easy comfort of slogans," said Phillips,
adding that he thought an Islamic state was unlikely
to emerge because Iraq was more secular than other Middle
Religious groups do have one big advantage, however.
Their natural gathering centres, the mosques, are still
intact whereas political parties have been ruthlessly
"In the short term, the segments of society that
will have the easiest time organising, easiest time
mobilising public support, easiest time expressing their
opinions in an organised fashion on the national scene
will be the religious groups," said Shibley Telhami,
professor at the U.S. University of Maryland.
Source: ALM Pakistan Branch
Send us an email to confirm your thoughts below,
do you agree with this article?: