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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Shiite Alliance Excludes Iraqi Prime Minister

The Iraqi Shiite link to Iran has been overblown and is an example of how ignorant we are in the West. Iranians, of which 89 percent are Shiite, are very proud of Persian history and our simplistic view of their influence on Iraqi Shiites (60-65 percent of the Iraqi population is Shiite versus 32-27 percent Sunni) should outrage them - it dismisses the cultural differences between Arabs and Persians.

Most Westerners know of the Roman Empires, but know little of the great Persian Empires. If Westerners used the simple outlook they use in examining Shiite Islam in Iraq and Iran to examine Western Christianity, they would overlook the cultural differences that broke Western Christianity apart (Roman Catholicism versus the Anglican communion, differences within the Anglican communion across the globe, differences between the Anglican communion and other Protestants, the development of the Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches in Northern Europe, etc.). Just as German Roman Catholics are much different than American ones, Arab Shiites (Iraq) are much different than Persian Shiites (Iran).

What I am getting at is that there is more to culture than religion. Language, for one, plays a huge role. To use the Western European example again, Latin morphed into the modern day romance languages and Roman Catholicism lost its total grip on Western Europe. Although I am no expert, as an ignorant Westerner myself, the Persian Empire morphed over time too; the linguistic differences between modern Iraq (Arabic) and Iran (Farsi) are hard to overlook. Only 1 percent of Iranians speak Arabic, and Farsi is rarely heard in Iraq. Scholars in Iran, like Ahmad Kasravi, spent years trying to "cleanse" the Farsi language of Arabic words and influence.

What else brought about this cultural divide? Although Iran has been officially Shiite since the Safavid dynasty in the 16th Century and Iraq has been a part of Iranzamin ("Greater Iran") for centuries, colonial rule and the subsequent modern nation-states of Iraq and Iran have helped to magnify the cultural differences between Iraq and Iran. The "little" mountain range, known as the Zagros (see map below), separating Iraq and Iran has become a geological Berlin Wall between the Arab Shiite and Persian Shiite areas of Iranzamin and allowed for more Arab influence on Iraq.

Also, the two countries fought an eight year war not too long ago. Obviously I have left things out, but the main point is Iraqi Shiites are different from Iranian Shiites!

Anyhow, back to article that brought about this tirade...

With regards to the new Shiite political alliance in Iraq, it appears that proportional representation parliamentary democracy really is taking shape in Iraq. Here is an excerpt from the article linked above:

The new bloc, called the Iraqi National Alliance, will include the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, or SIIC, and al-Sadr's bloc, which both have close ties to Tehran.

Although some small Sunni and secular parties are joining the alliance, many Sunnis consider the Supreme Council as little more than an instrument of Shiite Iran.

If the alliance does well in the Jan. 16 vote, Tehran could gain deeper influence in Iraq as U.S. forces pull back, with a full American withdrawal planned by the end of 2011.

Al-Maliki's Dawa Party also has close ties to Iran, but the prime minister has tried in recent years to persuade Tehran to stop interfering in Iraq. Iran is accused of supporting Shiite militias, despite its denials of the allegations.

1 comment:

T. Greer said...

Astute post.

Not much more I can add however.