Why the Shiites are the Key

(International Herald Tribune) Reuel Marc Gerecht - The car bombing Friday in the Shiite holy city of An Najaf, which killed scores of Iraqis, including the prominent cleric Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim - and which took place less than a week after a bomb went off at the home of Hakim's uncle, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim - has convulsed the Shiite community, who make up at least 60% of Iraq's population. Both ayatollahs had been talking to U.S. officials and favored democracy. Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim controlled the only effective Shiite paramilitary force, but had chosen not to direct it against the occupation. This had angered Shiite extremists, notably the young cleric Moktada al-Sadr, leader of a violent faction known as the Sadriyyin. The Sadriyyin are hard-core revolutionaries, spiritual disciples of the "Khomeini of Iraq," Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr, who was killed by Saddam Hussein in 1980. Washington should not tolerate the small stream of holy warriors coming over the Syrian and Iranian borders. Shiite leaders view U.S. efforts against these foreigners as a test of America's resolve and capacities. The only way to stop the flow will be to apply pressure on Syria and Iran to end it. Saddam was never able to seal the Iranian-Iraqi border, and thousands of additional U.S. troops won't either. The principal focus for now must be helping the Shiites and their senior clergy, America's strongest allies in the country. They are the key to creating the democracy America has promised.

2003-09-03 00:00:00

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