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Muslims in Iraq ponder upon Islamic state amid vacuum:
Islam is the answer, but will the Muslims give their lives for the rewarding cause?

The Reality on the Ground!

Iraqis 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 streets.

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 rule.

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," he said.

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 interim government.

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 International Peace.

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 Muslim.

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 U.S. think-tank.

"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 said.

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 entail.

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 Eastern countries.

Religious groups do have one big advantage, however. Their natural gathering centres, the mosques, are still intact whereas political parties have been ruthlessly suppressed.

"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

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Khilafah II

This sequal will dominate world politics for all mankind, forever.



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