August 11, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 290

Iraqi Shi'a Views of the Lebanon Crisis

August 11, 2006
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 290


The following is a brief review and analysis of the position of the Iraqi Shi'a to the events in Lebanon, by the staff in MEMRI's Baghdad office. Two important messages emerge from the analysis: first, while most of the Iraqi Shi'a are sympathetic to Hizbullah, this attitude is by no means universal. Some elements of the Shi'a community blame Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nassrallah for the provocation that caused the conflagration; and second, and perhaps more significant, the leading Shi'a authority in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has restricted his fatwa [religious edict] to providing financial support to Hizbullah rather than declaring jihad in its favor.

The Shi'a as a Community

All over the world, the Shi'a community considers itself a unique group unified by geographic and national boundaries despite strong nationalist attachment to the countries they belong to. Thus, the Shi'a of Iraq are part of the nation and the land. At the same time, the Shi'a, who are enmeshed at the doctrinal and psychological levels, feel that they are a minority in the Arab world, with its Sunni characteristics. This feeling strengthens the intellectual and spiritual connection among the Shi'a in the Arab world and provides them with a common concern regarding the challenges and difficulties they face.

Based on these ideological foundations, the majority of Arab Shi'a, and in particular the Shi'a of Iraq, are deeply affected by the harsh Israeli attacks on the Lebanese Hizbullah even if they do not agree with the ideas of Hassan Nassrallah - a descendent from a family whose origin is traced to Prophet Mohammad and who, therefore, wears the black turban that draws the admiration and awe of all Shi'a.

The Ruling Shi'a Majority

The Iraqi Shi'a have expressed feelings of bitterness and anger for the damage, destruction, and expulsion wrought on the Lebanese Shi'a by the Israeli forces. That they are able to freely express themselves is a new phenomenon brought about by the demise of the hated Saddam regime. The United Iraqi Alliance - the Shi'a representing religious parties - is now the principal ruling power in Iraq, controlling 130 of the 275 seats in Parliament; further, some of the remaining seats are occupied by liberal Shi'a who make no secret of their agreement with the United Iraqi Alliance on the Hizbullah issue.

The Shi'a anger and criticism for what Israel is doing in Lebanon has been echoed in two statements issued by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki was even more emphatic in his denunciation of the support the American government and congress have given to the persistent Israeli attacks on Lebanon.

Using their Power to Help Hizbullah

Taking advantage of their influence and control over state resources, the Iraqi Shi'a decided to contribute $25 million in urgent assistance to Lebanon, in the same week that Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari signed a $30 million loan from Japan in support of the crumbling Iraqi infrastructure. Concurrently, the Iraqi Shi'ite leadership, of all colors, has intensified its angry language against Israel's war on Hizbullah - a position in line with Iran's strong support for Hassan Nassrallah.

The TV channel al-Fourat [the Euphrates], which is owned by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a strong constituent of the United Iraqi Alliance, airs extensive reports and pictures of the massacres to which the Lebanese Shi'a are subjected. Al-Fourat has devoted a large portion of its programming to the airing of rousing marches in support of Hizbullah, the speeches of its leader Hassan Nassrallah, and pictures of the parades of Hizbullah military units. It is significant that the TV station has given priority in its news bulletins to the ongoing battles in Lebanon and northern Israel over the hot news from Iraq. The same emphasis in programming is followed by the official Iraqi TV station, which is run by secular Shi'a.

Talabani Donates Money to Hizbullah

Moreover, the NGO, known as "Shahid al-Mihrab" (the reference to Ali, Mohammad's son-in-law and the fourth Muslim Khalif) run by Ammar al-Hakim, the son of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, has put out boxes for contributions by Iraqis, and the first donor was Jalal Talabani, the President of Iraq.

Support for Nassrallah Not Total

Despite this strong support in the Shia'a community in Iraq, a large segment of the Iraqi Shi'a ignores or attaches no significance to Hizbullah and Hassan Nasrallah, for they consider him responsible for the unleashing of the Israeli attack in the wake of the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Many of these Shi'a place the responsibility on the Iranians who are the real movers of Hassan Nassrallah, although they do not hide their anger about the killing and savage bombing by Israeli forces.

Al-Sistani's Fatwa Regarding the Situation in Lebanon

The highest Shi'ite religious authority in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, has called on the world and its free people to stop the Israeli aggression. He followed his appeal with a fatwa (religious edict) permitting the payment of the zakat (alms, required of all Muslims) to support Hizbullah and those affected Lebanese. He called on his representatives to provide all forms of assistance and support to the families which have been displaced as a result of the war. However, he refrained from instructing to wage jihad to help Hizbullah.

On his part, Shi'ite radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has taken his extremist position vis-à-vis the Americans and the Israelis and has called upon followers to support the Islamic resistance movement. In a mass demonstration in Baghdad, his followers demanded al-Sadr to consider them an extension of Hizbullah, and they expressed a genuine desire to participate with Hizbullah against what they characterized as the "al-muthalath al-Mash'um" (the ill-fated triangle, most likely the reference is to the U.S., Israel and the Sunni governments).

But despite their disagreement with the political ideology of Hizbullah, which supports the notion of wilayat al-faqih (the Rule of the Jurist) of Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iraqi Shi'a feel a sense of fraternity with the party in charge because of its Shi'ite faith. The Iraqi Shi'ite support for Nassrallah and his party has been intensified in reaction to the obvious sectarian position of some of the Arab leaders, who are publicly afraid of a Shi'ite victory in the war with Israel. This support by the Iraqi Shi'a was further increased as a result of the fatwas issued by Saudi Wahhabi clerics, who have forbidden the support of the Shi'a of Hizbullah of achieving victory.

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