The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shi’ite Muslim
cleric in Iraq, has indirectly ordered fellow Shi’a to cast their
ballots for representatives of the Shi’ite religious parties that now
control the interim Iraqi government. A permanent Shi’ite-Kurdish
government may prove even more intransigent than the interim government
in addressing Sunni concerns about being cut out of Iraq’s oil
revenues—thus accelerating the incipient civil war in that nation.
The ever over-confident Bush administration, controlling the levers
of authority in the globe’s only hyperpower, has never really bothered
to understand important characteristics of nations it invades. In its
lust for the rhetoric of “spreading democracy,” the administration has
failed to notice that the term means something different in countries
with little democratic experience, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, than it
does in the United States.
In Iraq, as in Afghanistan, voters cast their ballots as prominent
leaders desire. In Afghan elections, people voted as their tribal
leaders or warlords directed. In Iraq, most of the majority Shi’a
population (60 percent of Iraqis) will reliably vote the way al-Sistani
wants. In contrast, American voters—even fundamentalist Christian
ones—don’t usually vote solely on the basis of their religious leader’s
political wishes (if they are expressed at all).
The Shi’ite religious parties in Iraq, which will most likely be
victorious, are heavily influenced and funded by the oppressive
theocratic government in Iran. One of the most prominent of those
parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, originally
consisted of Iraqi defectors, exiles and refugees who spent two decades
in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule and fought on the Iranian side in
the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s.
The party’s militia, the ruthless Badr organization, has been accused
of assassinations and other violence against Sunnis and secular Shi’a.
According to foreign policy analyst Gareth Porter, the Dawa party,
another Shi’ite group, is organized on the basis of Leninist methods.
Shi’ite militias have infiltrated Iraq’s security forces and Interior
Ministry, which has recently been implicated in the torture of Sunnis in
In short, the now desperate Bush administration’s attempt to achieve
“victory in Iraq” and pledge to take the Iraqi democratic experiment on
the road to other autocratic Arab countries really amount to letting
U.S. soldiers die to make the world safe for theocracy. In fact, such
future theocracies in Iraq and elsewhere would likely be very unfriendly
to the United States and might even sponsor terrorist attacks against
Of course, the “victory” of installing a Shi’ite theocracy in Iraq is
predicated on the low probability of the United States defeating the
Sunni insurgency and avoiding a civil war, which is already beginning.
That internecine war will likely be intensified by the new Iraqi
constitution, which barely escaped a Sunni veto in the referendum on
The constitution gives the Kurds and Shi’a a greater proportion of
oil revenues than the Sunnis because most of the petroleum lies in
Kurdish northern and Shi’ite southern Iraq, respectively. In addition to
attempting to evict the foreign invader from their land and having angst
about likely paybacks from the Shi’ite-Kurdish government for the
excesses of Saddam Hussein’s years, the Sunni insurgents are fighting
because they fear being left in a resource-poor rump area.
The constitution only passed because the interim government agreed to
renegotiate portions of it after the vote. But now that the document has
been approved, a newly elected and stronger permanent Shi’ite-Kurdish
government will have little incentive to do so. So the feud over oil
revenues will likely fuel the embryonic civil war.
To reduce the chances of such a conflagration, the constitution
should be amended to partition Iraq into Shi’ite, Kurdish, and Sunni
areas (all lands within these three or more areas do not have to be
contiguous) and to proportionally share petroleum revenues or even
oilfields with the Sunnis.
To give the Shi’a and Kurds an incentive to reach an agreement to
share oil, the United States would inform them that the U.S. military,
which is the only thing propping up the Iraqi government, will be
The administration has dug itself so deeply into the Iraqi hole that
no perfect solution exists to avoid the impending civil war. But this
solution at least stops the digging and begins filling in some dirt.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.