Friday, July 08, 2005

"God's Vengeance" with a vengeance 

theocracy rising...

International Herald Tribune
Shiite theocracy takes hold in Iraqi oil city
By Edward Wong The New York Times | FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2005:

[...] The men here, just a block from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, sell instruments by day and perform at weddings in the evening.

"They say it's forbidden by Islam," Ali, 18, said as he went back to his own shop, its shelves stocked with drums. "We're afraid of everything. I'm afraid of it all. I'm afraid even when I'm talking to you."

The once-libertine oil port of Basra, 560 kilometers, or 350 miles, south of the capital and far from the insurgency raging in much of Iraq, is steadily being transformed into a mini-theocracy under Shiite rule.

There is perhaps no better indication of the possible flash points in a Shiite-dominated Iraq, because the political parties that hold sway here also wield significant influence in the central government in Baghdad and are backed by the country's top clerics.

Efforts to impose strict Shiite religious rule across Iraq would almost certainly spur resistance from Sunni Arabs and the more secular Kurds. But here in Basra, the changes have accelerated since the January elections, which enabled religious parties to put more radical politicians into office.

Small parties with names like God's Vengeance and Master of Martyrs have emerged. They work under the umbrella of more established Shiite groups, but many Iraqis suspect them of being agents of the Iranian government. One of the leading parties was formed in Iran by an Iraqi cleric living in exile during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

The growing ties with Iran are evident. Posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, are plastered along streets and even at the provincial government center.


Few women walk around without a head scarf and full-length black robe. A young woman who gave her name as Layla said she could wear jeans without a robe a year ago. But seven months ago, as she strode from her house, a group of men came up to her and warned her that she was improperly dressed. She says she no longer goes out in public without a robe.

Religious Shiites do not have to legally enshrine Shariah, Islam's version of divine law, to exercise their will. Enforcement of Islamic practices is done on the streets, in the shadows.

"We're trying to do it culturally, rather than impose it by law," said Furat al-Shara, a representative for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite political party that holds powerful positions in the national government.

Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Bahadli, a top official in the Sadr movement prominent in the National Assembly, summed up the conservative view: "If Shariah exists everywhere in the world, in China, Korea or Japan, for example, and not just in Iraq, everyone will be happy."


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