- js reader version
- view hidden posts
- tags and related articles
by Washington Post
Thursday, Apr. 24, 2003 at 8:21 PM
U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites
By Glenn Kessler and Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 23, 2003; Page A01
As Iraqi Shiite demands for a dominant role in Iraq's future mount, Bush administration officials say they underestimated the Shiites' organizational strength and are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American, Islamic fundamentalist government in the country.
The burst of Shiite power -- as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands who made a long-banned pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala yesterday -- has U.S. officials looking for allies in the struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
As the administration plotted to overthrow Hussein's government, U.S. officials said this week, it failed to fully appreciate the force of Shiite aspirations and is now concerned that those sentiments could coalesce into a fundamentalist government. Some administration officials were dazzled by Ahmed Chalabi, the prominent Iraqi exile who is a Shiite and an advocate of a secular democracy. Others were more focused on the overriding goal of defeating Hussein and paid little attention to the dynamics of religion and politics in the region.
"It is a complex equation, and the U.S. government is ill-equipped to figure out how this is going to shake out," a State Department official said. "I don't think anyone took a step backward and asked, 'What are we looking for?' The focus was on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein."
Complicating matters is that the United States has virtually no diplomatic relationship with Iran, leaving U.S. officials in the dark about the goals and intentions of the government in Tehran. The Iranian government is the patron of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading Iraqi Shiite group.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, a major strategic goal of the United States has been to contain radical Shiite fundamentalism. In the 1980s, the United States backed Hussein as a bulwark against Iran. But by this year, the drive to topple Hussein -- who had suppressed Iraq's Shiite majority for decades -- loomed as a much more important objective for the administration.
U.S. intelligence reports reaching top officials throughout the government this week said the Shiites appear to be much more organized than was thought. On Monday, one meeting of generals and admirals at the Pentagon evolved into a spontaneous teach-in on Iraq's Shiites and the U.S. strategy for containing Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq.
The administration hopes the U.S.-led war in Iraq will lead to a crescent of democracies in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied territories and Saudi Arabia. But it could just as easily spark a renewed fervor for Islamic rule in the crescent, officials said.
"This is a 25-year project," one three-star general officer said. "Everyone agreed it was a huge risk, and the outcome was not at all clear."
The CIA has cultivated some Shiite clerics, but not many, and not for very long. The CIA is helping to move clerics safely into towns where they can build a political base. In Najaf, for instance, agency case officers worked with a couple of clerics.
"We don't want to allow Persian fundamentalism to gain any foothold," a senior administration official said. "We want to find more moderate clerics and move them into positions of influence."
One major problem is that Hussein executed hundreds of Shiite clerics and exiled thousands more, leaving behind few Shiite civic or religious leaders of national standing.
Shortly after Baghdad fell, Abdul Majid Khoei, a London-based Shiite cleric who was working with U.S. Special Forces, was stabbed to death at a shrine in Najaf, apparently by followers of a young anti-American Shiite leader. They also surrounded the Najaf home of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the nation's top Shiite cleric, and ordered him to leave the city before tribal elders persuaded them to disperse.
U.S. officials are hoping to combat fundamentalism by helping the Iraqis build a secular education system. Before 1991, Iraq had what was regarded as one of the finest education systems in the region, but years of economic sanctions have devastated it.
"The most radical aspects of Islam are in places with no education at all but the Koran," an official said. "There is no math, no culture. You counter that [fundamentalism] by doing something with the education system."
The Shiites of Iraq make up about 60 percent of the population, compared with less than 20 percent for the Sunnis that have long dominated Iraqi political life. Shiite Muslims, who make up less than 15 percent of the world's 1 billion Muslims, formed their own sect shortly after the death of Muhammad, founder of Islam, in 632.
While Shiites are the majority in Iran and Iraq, the Shiites in Iraq are Arab, not Persian, giving U.S. officials hope that a strong sense of Iraqi nationalism and a tradition of resisting the concept of a single supreme Shiite ruler will keep Persian fundamentalism in check. "There is a big difference, a tremendous difference, between Persian and Arab Shiites," a U.S. official said.
Indeed, some experts believe ending the suppression of Iraqi Shiites will begin to turn the center of the religion away from Iran. The shrines of two of its most revered imams -- the Shiite successors to Mohammed -- are in Najaf and Karbala.
Some U.S. intelligence analysts and Iraq experts said they warned the Bush administration before the war about vanquishing Hussein's government without having anything to replace it. But officials said the concerns were either not heard or fell too low on the priority list of postwar planning.
Chalabi's influence, particularly with senior policymakers at the Pentagon, helped play down the prospects for trouble, some officials said. "They really did believe he is a Shiite leader," although he had been out of the country for 45 years, a U.S. official said. "They thought, 'We're set, we've got a Shiite -- check the box here.' "
"We're flying blind on this. It's a classic case of politics and intelligence," said Walter P. "Pat" Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency specialist in Middle Eastern affairs. "In this case, the policy community have absolutely whipped the intel community, or denigrated it so much."
U.S. officials have tried to make inroads with Iraq's most important Shiite group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), starting with contacts in Kuwait about five years ago. A senior representative of SCIRI met with Vice President Cheney in August when U.S. officials gathered leaders of the Iraqi opposition groups in Washington.
But SCIRI, which is based in Tehran and is closely linked with the Iranian government, boycotted the first U.S.-sponsored meeting of Iraqi political and religious leaders in the town of Ur to discuss the country's political future. Over the years, "there was not as much contact as there should have been," the State Department official said.
"They expected a much warmer reception, and as a result it would be unnecessary for them to deal with some of these issues," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a Brookings Institution scholar, who was one of President Bill Clinton's top Iraq specialists. "That flawed assumption is at the heart of some of the reasons they are scrambling now."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Report this post as:
GUIDE TO REBEL CITY LOS ANGELES AVAILABLE
lausd whistle blower
Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images
UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light
Change Links April 2018
Nuclear Shutdown News March 2018
Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018!
Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018!
Spring 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert!
Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Shows Shocking Eviction Trends in L.A.
Steve Mnuchin video at UCLA released
Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Clean Ups
After Being Told He's 'Full of Sh*t' at School Event, Mnuchin Demands UCLA Suppress Video
Resolution of the Rent Strike in Boyle Heights
What Big Brother Knows About You and What You Can Do About It
Step Up As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Steps Down
Our House Grief Support Center Hosts 9th Annual Run For Hope, April 29
Don’t let this LA County Probation Department overhaul proposal sit on the shelf
Echo Park Residents Sue LA Over Controversial Development
Former Signal Hill police officer pleads guilty in road-rage incident in Irvine
Calif. Police Accused of 'Collusion' With Neo-Nazis After Release of Court Documents
Center for the Study of Political Graphics exhibit on Police Abuse posters
City Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Claiming Pasadena Police Officer Had His Sister Falsely Arre
Professor's Study Highlights Health Risks of Urban Oil Drilling
Claims paid involving Pasadena Police Department 2014 to present
Pasadenans - get your license plate reader records from police
LA Times Homicide Report
More Local News...
Doxa du lobby
Tech workers organize
Architect Stephen Francis Jones
UN Forum Wrestles with Economic Policies 10 Years After Financial Crisis Islands Call for
Shadowgun Legends Hack and Cheats
What does the Quran Say About Islamic Dress??
Biodiversité ou la nature privatisée
The Market is a Universal Totalitarian Religion
Book Available about Hispanics and US Civil War by National Park Service
The Shortwave Report 04/20/18 Listen Globally!
The Republican 'Prolife' Party Is the Party of War, Execution, and Bear Cub Murder
Paraphysique de la dictature étatique
Book Review: "The New Bonapartists"
The West Must Take the First Steps to Russia
Théorie générale de la révolution ou hommage à feu Mikhaïl Bakounine
The Shortwave Report 04/13/18 Listen Globally!
“Lost in a Dream” Singing Competition Winner to Be Chosen on April 15 for ,000 Prize!
The World Dependent on Central Banks
Ohio Governor Race: Dennis Kucinich & Richard Cordray Run Against Mike DeWine
March 2018 Honduras Coup Again Update
Apologie du zadisme insurrectionnel
ICE contract with license plate reader company
Black Portraiture(S) IV: The Color of Silence...Cuba No...Cambridge Yes
Prohibiting Micro-Second Betting on the Exchanges
Prosecutors treat Muslims harsher than non-Muslims for the same crimes
More Breaking News...