print
memri
October 2, 2003 No.
582

Editorials from the New Iraqi Press: MEMRI Baghdad Dispatch (10)

This release from MEMRI's Baghdad office focuses primarily on editorials addressing Iraq's new administrative institutions, the country's relations with the Arab League, and the nature of the soon to be drafted constitution.

In the Annex MEMRI publishes the eighth biographical note on a figure in Iraq's post Saddam leadership: the Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein Al-Sistani.

Editorials

I. An Assessment of Iraq's New Administrative Institutions

The daily Al-Qabas (published by The New Iraqi Philanthropic Society ) evaluated the accomplishments of the Iraqi Governing Council and reported that "we cannot make an educated evaluation of the honorable Governing Council since we have been asking a great [deal] from it within just a few days… nevertheless, this short period of time has witnessed very important and noticeable steps, which reflect the Council members' true level of dedication on the domestic and international levels... [T]he Council does not have a magic wand that allows it to provide everything overnight, this is conditional upon… the awareness of every citizen of the magnitude of responsibility that each one must bear…" The paper emphasizes the importance of harmonious interaction between the people and the government, and of giving each one the opportunity to assume their share of the responsibility. [1]

In regards to the Arab League's conditional decision to accept Iraq's participation in the foreign ministers meeting, Al-Mustaqilla (independent) says that the decision "does not imply recognition of the legitimacy of the Governing Council … [S]uch recognition is conditional upon submitting a timetable and a binding plan for re-establishing Iraq's sovereignty…and that, in our opinion, puts the Council in a very delicate situation because it is not possible to commit the occupation forces to a timetable or decisions incompatible with their policies and instruments… [F]urthermore, the Governing Council, due to its composition and the political and ideological conflicts among its members - who were appointed by the occupation administration - does not have effective tools to impose its will on the occupation forces. There is a marked difference between the appointed [administrator] and the elected one, and this truism was further demonstrated in the Council's decisions, especially the establishment of the so-called government…" [2]

A more positive analysis was published by the daily Al-Qasem Al-Mushtarak (independent) and titled "From a Governing Council to a Council for the People." The newspaper stated that, in light of recent developments in the positions of the U.N., the Arab League and the U.S., "the Governing Council has had positive accomplishments externally, however it is still running in place domestically. We did not notice a similar positive interaction among the elements represented in the Council in the domestic arena… it is true that the Council is not a political alliance, but it can consolidate its efforts and direct the [political] parties towards attaining the necessary goals for the transitional period… We think that it is necessary for the Council to turn itself from a Council for governance to a Council for the people…" [3]

In an editorial titled "Iraq's Unity is Stronger Than the Acts of Strife," Al-'Adala (published by The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) said that "when we say that the transitional Governing Council should be the only national authority to deal with the transition process, paving the way to a speedy departure of the foreign forces and the recovery of Iraq's sovereignty we are not compromising real needs; to the contrary, we are trying to set the record straight, within a vision of the country's interests… The problems in Iraq will not be resolved unless the Iraqis deal with them by themselves… [Therefore] we believe that the Governing Council,which includes the major political powers and personalities, and is in agreement with the rest of the ideological powers and centers - particularly the religious leaderships - is the gateway towards reversing the equation for the benefit of the people. Furthermore, we can say that such efforts will gain ever increasing support from domestic and foreign sources, including the U.S. itself…" [4]

Discussing the improvement in the security situation, an editorial by the daily Al-Watan (published by the Iraqi National Movement) titled "Painstaking Efforts and Visible Improvement in Security" states that "the Iraqi citizen began to feel that the security situation has taken a powerful step forward when the Iraqi police force began to play a more noticeable role than before. The citizen is feeling that police presence close to him will assist him when assistance is needed… Noble voices are being heard [calling] for the establishment of security in Iraq, one of them is that of the Iraqi clans who agreed to execute criminals who tamper with the security of their country and endanger citizens' efforts to live peacefully. These comforting efforts need to continue [but] strengthening them also needs the contribution of every individual. A comprehensive security process starts from the top of the administrative pyramid [and extends to] to the most modest citizen in our country…" [5]

II. Iraq and the Arab League

Even after the conditional recognition of the Governing Council by the Arab League, the relations between the two sides remain subject to discussions and dissection by the Iraqi press.

An editorial in the daily Al-Jumhour (published by the National Alliance Party) reminds readers that Iraq was one of the founding members of the Arab League. It goes on to say that "...the Arabs agreed to accept [the participation of] Iraq in the Arab foreign ministers meetings, where Hoshyar Zibari, Iraq's representative who is a Kurd, represented all the Iraqis with dignity: Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, Shi'a and Sunna, Muslims and Christians, without any ethnic or religious discrimination…" The paper further states that "efforts to regain Iraq's sovereignty and its civil and military institutions need Arab efforts first and foremost, since without Arab support Iraq cannot accomplish anything except withdrawing into its shell… isolation is an easy but undesirable solution… and Iraq has played a distinguished and long-lasting role in the Arab arena, and will play the same role again when it reclaims its political and economic sovereignty…" [6]

III. The Preferred Constitution

Al-Jareeda (Arab Socialist Movement) said: "We, in Iraq, are in need of a constitution more than anything else except air and water. We need a constitution that will regulate our lives, direct our progress, goals, policies and relationships… Yes, Iraq needs a permanent constitution that will wipe off the dust of more than half a century, and the residues of more than three decades of despotic oppression. [An era] that did not give the people any role and did not allow them to design by themselves a democratic structure based on national pluralism… Therefore, it is important to publish the constitutional drafts developed by various political movements… in order to enhance the people's constitutional awareness… which will help them discuss their permanent national constitution. A constitution conceived in such an environment will certainly be one that will preserve Iraq's sovereignty and independence and will give everyone their due national rights as well as their responsibilities… Such a constitution will not give anyone authority beyond his rights, and will not give power to any group beyond what is due to it, so that it will not be able to impose its ideologies on others…" [7]

IV. Iraq's Bright Future

Despite hardships and sabotage, there are a growing number of editorials that are optimistic about the Iraqi people's future.

The weekly Al-Ghad (published by the Iraqis for Medical and Humanitarian Aid Association) stated: "Our tomorrow is bright in spite of the enemies, because tomorrow is shaped by Iraqi hands, sweat and hard work. We are people who learned how to cry and to overcome adversities despite a painful yesterday… It is our duty to cooperate in a sincere manner with everyone else and to abandon self-centeredness …" [8]

A similar tone typified an editorial by Al-Taakhi daily (published by the Kurdish Democratic Party – KDP): "…We have known them in the past, the ignorant, stupid, underdeveloped, bitterly spiteful [individuals] who live in the dark and survive on blood... they want to burn Iraq…" The paper continues: "You the criminals, the failures, the scared, you will fall, soon and hard… and you will realize that the Iraqis are determined to persevere against you and to fight you and eliminate you. You will find that the Iraqis despise and loathe you… And you, dear Iraq, our honorable motherland, you will not be rocked by a wind blowing from a wasteland …" [9]

V. Public Services are More Effective than Weapons

Discussing the present debate regarding whether to send more troops to Iraq to deal with the security situation, Al-Watan (published by the Iraqi National Movement) states that "public services are tangible and easily felt by the citizens of any country… [W]hen the power was restored for a few days, people stopped dwelling upon it and went back to their regular activities. On the other hand, the presence of more foreign troops, equipped to the hilt with light, medium and heavy weapons… signify the existence of an abnormal situation, which will bother the people and backfire negatively…" [10]

VI. Detestable Debts

An editorial by Al-Taakhi asks: "Are there detestable and non-detestable debts? The answer is yes, the detestable ones are those imposed on you unknowingly and without your consent. This is what happened to the Iraqi people, where we find ourselves in debt to other countries at the tune of 130 billion dollars… And no one has the answer to the why, how and for what. It is a debt inherited from the former regime, a despotic regime which dealt with the world based on personal decisions whose goal was to drain this country's resources and the future of its people without their knowledge…

"It hurts us to think about this debt, and it hurts us to read a statement by Jordan's finance minister that Iraq owes Jordan 25 billion dollars while we know that we have 500 billion dollars [sic.] frozen in Jordan… We do not know whether the minister forgot that Iraq has, for many years and free of charge, supplied half of Jordan's oil needs… Saddam did that based on a political consideration that [Jordan] would protect and defend [his] regime… The Iraqi people cannot be held accountable for decisions made clandestinely by a ruler who wanted to preserve his regime at the expense of his nation…"

The paper also questions reparations related to the second Gulf war which are estimated at 200 billion dollars and were imposed on Iraq by the U.N. According to the paper, even if Iraq pays all these debts, it will take years, during which, the country will remain poor and bankrupt. [11]

Another independent daily, Al-Saha Al-Yawm, asked in a headline, "25 Billion Dollars, does Iraq Truly Owe it to Jordan?" [12]

Special News Reports

Notable Arab and Foreign Presidents and Intellectuals who Received Monthly Salaries from Saddam Hussein

Without substantiating the contents of its report, the daily Al-Yawm Al-Aakher (independent) prefaced its list by saying that "it is the right of the Iraqi and Arab people to know some of the horrifying truth." The following is a brief listing:

Jamal Al-Gheidhani: The paper contends that Al-Gheidhani, an Egyptian writer, is the real author of two books supposedly penned by Saddam and that he received $50,000 per month for his efforts.

Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan: "The father of nationalism" and famous for his unflinching support of Saddam Hussein. The paper reports that it obtained a secret document asking for "the reasons for the delay in depositing the monthly sum of $50,000 in City Bank in Amman…" The paper also reports that "this explains the secret of his fierce defense of Iraq and the Arabs. It was a paid-for defense…"

Yemen's President Muhammad Abdallah Saleh: "Wholesale grants."

Jasim Al-Ali: "The final cluster in the money tree." According to the report, Al-Ali, who had been the representative of Al-Jazeera TV in Baghdad, received "tempting monthly amounts from the former Iraqi government…" [13]

Wives of Ex-Officials Lobby for Funds to be Deposited in Jordanian Banks

"The Jordanian government asked Tariq Aziz's wife to attain legal assistance to obtain access to her husband's accounts in Jordanian banks… [P]ress reports had indicated that Mrs. Aziz has been using intermediaries in Amman in order to get access to funds deposited by her husband, but the Jordanian government apologized to her and to the wives of several high ranking [former] Iraqi officials, saying that it could not look into this matter, considering it a legal one… At the same time, Mrs. Aziz has been trying to establish a lobby of several distinguished Iraqi wives who had found refuge in Jordan, to create pressure for getting these funds since they were deposited in the names of their spouses or relatives…" [14]

Abd Hamoud Attacked at the Baghdad Airport Detention Camp

Al-Ittihad (published by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK) reported that "one of the detainees at the detention camp in Baghdad's airport used a razor blade to attack the criminal Abd Hamoud, secretary and confidant of the dictator on-the-lam Saddam Hussein…" According to the report, Hamoud was transported to a hospital with severe cuts on his face and neck. [15] Hamoud is number five on the U.S.'s most wanted list.

Headlines

- "The Association of Sunna clerics calls for national unity and for abandoning sectarianism." [16]

- "Underground jails discovered in Al-Ramadi." [17]

- "In an international survey, Al-Chalabi is fourth on the list of exemplary personalities qualified to lead Iraq." [18]

- "Saddam Hussein digs up his sons' graves and moves their bodies to unknown locations." [19]

- "Attempts to smuggle millions of dollars worth of weapons from Iraq to Jordan." [20]

- "The police are in command of the security situation in Baghdad and patrol all its streets at night." [21]

- "Domestic and international reservations towards granting ownership to foreign companies." [22]

- "All army officers are reinstated and the ministry of defense operates in its former structure." [23]

- "Saddam's wife arrives in Jordan. Her daughters negotiate the purchase of a large palace in Amman." [24]

Annex VIII: Iraqi Leadership Biographical Series

Grand Ayatollah (Ayatollah Al-Uzma) 'Ali Hussein Al-Sistani

Grand Ayatollah 'Ali Al-Sistani, who represents the conservative branch of the Shi'a Hawza (a center of religious studies and scholarship) in the holy city of Najaf, is one of five grand ayatollahs and the most senior Shi'a cleric in Iraq. Until recently, in keeping with the Hawza tradition, Al-Sistani refrained from direct involvement in national politics. By calling on his followers not to engage in military action against the occupation forces he has exercised considerable influence in maintaining calm in the Shi'a areas of Iraq, primarily in the south and the center of the country.

Al-Sistani was born in 1930 in the city of Mashhad in Iran's Baluchi-Afghani area. In 1951 he went to Najaf to pursue his theological and religious studies. [25] In the history of Iraq and Iran it has not been uncommon for Shi'a clerics and religious scholars to move back and forth between the Hawza in Najaf and its counterpart in Iran, the Hawza of Qum. Except during Saddam's regime, the Najaf Hawza has had the central role in religious training and in issuing Fatwas(religious edicts) on matters of doctrine, and Shari'a (religious law) and social and political conduct.

Suspicious of their loyalty, Saddam Hussein either murdered or expelled to Iran most of the clerics who were not born in Iraq. Al-Sistani kept a low-profile during the Saddam regime which helped him survive the worst of Saddam's wrath, although he was under a prolonged house arrest. Saddam was not his only adversary. Years later, he needed to escape the supporters of the young firebrand Shi'a cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr who demanded that, since Al-Sistani was Iranian born, he should leave the country and designate Muqtada as the Shi'a Marja' (the religious and spiritual guide.) The power struggle did not end there.

A few days after his return from exile in London, Abd Al-Majid Al-Khoei, the son of another grand Ayatollah from the 1980s Abu Al-Qasim Al-Khoei who claimed to speak for Al-Sistani, was stabbed to death in the shrine of Najaf. [26] Some Shi'a scholars told Al-Hayat that Al-Sistani lacks the stature to acquire the historic position occupied by Grand Ayatollah Al-Khoei. It is not surprising that he operates within a collective leadership consisting of Bashir Al-Najafi (of Pakistani origin), Sheikh Ishaq Al-Fayadh (of Afghan origin), and Ayatollah Muhammad Sa'id Al-Hakim who recently survived an assassination attempt and is the only one among the four who was born in Iraq. [27]

Distancing himself from political issues has led to criticism from the young clerics who generally refuse to accept the Governing Council. However this conflict reflects "a century-old debate within the folds of Shi'ism, where one school of thought has discouraged the involvement of the highest Shi'a leadership, the Marjaiyya, in worldly affairs while another school, typified by Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, advocates the 'the rule of the jurist,' [Wilayat Al-faqih] which allows clerics to acquire religious and political authority." [28] As part of a political balancing act, Al-Sistani has refused to meet with L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Administration. [29] The murders of Al-Khoei and Ayatollah Baqir Al-Hakim and the attempt on Ayatollah Mohammad Sa'id Al-Hakim, all of them moderates, has sent a dire message to the conservative Najaf Hawza and many of its leaders to take a more aggressive stance towards the CPA.

Fatwas Issued by Al-Sistani

Al-Sistani has issued a number of Fatwas which can only be welcomed by the CPA. One Fatwa makes it illegal for individuals to take over municipal land. Another Fatwa forbids the sale of stolen government property. He has decreed that what can be preserved should be until it can be restored to the legitimate government. He has decreed that all looted property from universities and hospitals should be returned. And finally, and significantly, he has called on clerics to avoid executive and administrative positions, and to limit themselves to guiding and monitoring the municipal boards which provide services to the population. [30]

The Promulgation of the New Constitution

Al-Sistani has been consistent in his views on the constitution. He believes that the constitution should be prepared by an elected, rather than an appointed, body. One Iraqi commentator believes that Al-Sistani took up this position, which he expressed in a Fatwa, only after his meeting with the liberal Shi'a politician and head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Al-Chalabi. [31] This position has now been officially adopted by Fuad Massoum, the chairman of the preparatory constitutional committee. [32] Like the Monarchy Movement, the Iraqi Shi'a believe that their political goals would be better served by a constitution drafted by elected individuals than by a constitution drafted by appointed individuals, whether appointed by the Governing Council or by the CPA. But elections in Iraq would require two conditions, internal security and a population census, neither of which is currently available. Massoum seems to have backtracked recently by saying that if an election of a constitutional assembly to draft the constitution proved to be difficult, others ways have to be found. [33] But Al-Sistani is prepared to wait, even at the expense of keeping Iraq under occupation, until his demands are met.

No Jihad Against Americans

Al-Sistani says he has resisted many appeals to issue a Fatwa requiring followers to fight Americans. However, he says that refusal "cannot last forever." [34]

Separating Religion and State

In an interview with the London daily Al-Hayat, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Safi, who is described as Al-Sistani's right-hand man, confirmed that Najaf would be prepared "to sacrifice," meaning to extend the occupation three or six months to ensure that the constitution is properly drafted.

When asked about separating religion and state Al-Safi stated: "We are now cautious with regard to what has happened in Iran. In Najaf we are not inclined to assert that religion should be separated from the state. Separating religion from politics or from the state is a sensitive issue. We say that politics should be 'religionized' rather than [cause] religion to be politicized." [35] In the course of the interview, he said the choice is not only between clerics and civilians. There is a third category of religious civilians. He did not advocate that a group wearing turbans (Mu'ammamin or 'turbanized'), similar to what exists in Iran, should hold the reigns of power. Rather, he would like to see the religious authority in Najaf give guidance and advice to those who hold power.

In a separate interview, Al-Sistani said that the role of the Marja'iyya is to issue Fatwas "in all aspects of life and strive to disseminate the values of the noble religion… founded on good behavior and the protection of the rights of others." [36]

At an earlier date, Al-Sistani said the creation of an Islamic republic in Iraq was not under consideration because of the political, religious, and ethnic diversity of the country. [37] Unlike Qum, however, Najaf does not have a history of mixing religion and politics; therefore, there seems to be no desire for an Islamic republic in Iraq. [38]

In answer to a question from the Iraqi independent daily Al-Zaman, Al-Sistani said the new constitution must reflect "religious norms, moral principles, and the noble social values of the Iraqi people." [39]


[1] Al-Qabas, September 20, 2003.

[2] Al-Mustaqilla, September 20, 2003. [Al-Mustaqilla was suspended once by the CPA for advocating violence against coalition forces.]

[3] Al-Qasem Al-Mushtarak, September 18, 2003.

[4] Al-'Adala, September 18, 2003.

[5] Al-Watan, September 23, 2003.

[6] Al-Jumhour, September 20, 2003.

[7] Al-Jareeda, September 18, 2003.

[8] Al-Ghad, September 21, 2003.

[9] Al-Taakhi, September 21, 2003.

[10] Al-Watan, September 23, 2003.

[11] Al-Taakhi, September 23, 2003.

[12] Al-Saha Al-Yawm, September 23, 2003.

[13] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, September 24, 2003.

[14] Al-Qabas, September 20, 2003.

[15] Al-Ittihad, September 17, 2003.

[16] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, September 22, 2003.

[17] Al-Qabas, September 20, 2003.

[18] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, September 22, 2003.

[19] Ibn Al-Balad, September 20, 2003.

[20] Al-Sabah (Iraqi Information Services), September 18, 2003.

[21] Al-Sabah (Iraqi Information Services), September 23, 2003.

[22] Al-Mada (independent weekly), September 23, 2003.

[23] Al-Watan, September 23, 2003.

[24] Al-Saha Al-Yawm, September 23, 2003.

[25] www.yahussain.com/int_coll/ulama/sistani/htm

[26] BBC Profile, June 30, 2003.

[27] Al-Hayat (London), August 30, 2003.

[28] The Hindu International, September 19, 2003.

[29] Al-Mutamar, June 26, 2003.

[30] Al-Zaman, June 1, 2003.

[31] Al-Zaman, July 7, 2003.

[32] Al-Quds Al-Arabi, September 11, 2003.

[33] Al-Zaman, September 29, 2003.

[34] Al-Hayat (London), August 18, 2003.

[35] Al-Hayat (London), August 27, 2003.

[36] Al-Zaman, August 19, 2003.

[37] Al-Hayat (London), April 22, 2003.

[38] Al-Hayat (London), February 4, 2003.

[39] Al-Zaman, August 19, 2003.