by Bahman Aghai Diba
February 25, 2005
The Islamic Republic of Iraq will pose a great danger for the Islamic Republic of Iran. A Shiite Islamic regime in Iraq will be a serious problem for the Iranian clergies holding the power in Iran. The two regimes will be inevitably in a natural collision course. They will be a rival and even adversary for each other in any field, especially the leadership of the Shiites in the world.
The Iranian Shiiteism of Ithna-Asharyyah (Twelve Imamates) has taken the characteristics of Iranian culture and history. The mixture is so peculiar to Iran that it does not work anywhere else (its working in Iran is under question too, but it out of the scope of this discussion). At the same time, the new religious leaders of Iran, contrary to religious leaders of past centuries, have proved that they lack the power and capacity to change the old traditions and create new norms compatible with new realities (in spite of the fact that the door for doing so has always been open). The more they have concentrated their power on religious affairs, the more they have become fundamentalist and hostage to the past. They have no formula for coexistence of two Shiite states.
Apart from religious differences, there are clear cultural, linguistic, ethnic and historical problems between two countries. The current political and social trends in the world are exactly in the course of aggrandizing all these differences not vice versa.
Although Iranians have received Islam through Arabs, but they do not feel any respect to the Arabs for the same fact. Many Iranians still feel the humiliation of an imposed religion, and Iranian literature (take Sadegh Hedayat for example) is full of nostalgia for pre-Islamic period. Some Iranians believe that Islam was planted by Iranians in the Arabia, which was a part of lands ruled by Sasanid and other Iranian dynasties (look at the stone carvings of Persepolis for Arabs presenting gifts to the Iranian Kings). Also a number of Iranians believe that what we hear about great Islamic civilization is in fact the Iranian rich heritage captured and redistributed by Arabs who lived in nomadic tribes of Arabia at the advent of Islam.
Iranian Shiiteism is a kind of Persian mechanism for undermining the necessity of following the Sunnis. This can be seen, better than any other period, in the history of Safavid who saved Iran by this doctrine from the Ottoman Empire that included Iraq and present Turkey.
Shiiteism of Iran in fact accuses Arabs for mistreating the children of the Prophet who must have succeeded their fathers. The Arabs (especially in Karbala and Kufeh) are responsible for killing Imam Hussein and his companions. The mourners and demonstrators of the Shiiteism in Iran are always cursing the people of Kufeh in Iraq for deceiving Imam Hussein (grandson of the prophet) and leaving him unprotected in front of Yazid, the Arab leader of troops sent by Moavieh (the son of Abu Sofian who had artificially pretended to be Muslim after the capturing of Mecca by the prophet). The widely used and practiced slogans of the Iranian Shiites are seriously anti-Arab, and especially against the people of the area called Iraq. ). Some of the regular slogans in the religious ceremonies of the Shiites (the centrality and importance of these ceremonies in the Iranian Shiite version is like the crucifixion of the Christ for the Christians) that are accompanied with intense "chest beating" and even serious self-inflicted injuries, as the sign of utmost protest and frustration from the cruel killing of Imam Hussein and his companions in Karbala of Iraq, are like this:
" Oh, Shameless people of Kufeh, stop beating Sakineh [the daughter of Imam Hussein who as attacked, along with the rest of Hussein's household including his ill son, Zainolabedin, by the troops and the people of Kufeh after the killing of Imam Hussein]."
The Arabs in their part have many negative approaches to Iran. Apart from the fact that Iranians were always called as alien (Ajam) and Zoroastrian (Majous), they were responsible for the biggest division in the Islam. Sometimes Iranians are called Rafezi, meaning those who are far from the religion of Islam or they have left the religion. Even today, some groups, like the followers of the various factions in Iraq constantly call the Shiites of Iran as Rafezi. Many of the Arabs do not consider Iranians as Muslims. About thirty years ago, Ayatollah Boroujerdi, one of the greatest Shiite leaders in Iran, after many difficulties, convinced the Al-Azhar University of Cairo to mention Shiiteism of Iran as an Islamic "Sect" in the Encyclopedia of Islam. The recent events in Najaf, i.e. the brutal assassination of Ayatollah Khoie and threatening of Ayatollah Sistani, as Iranian clergies, is a clear sign of hostilities of two versions of Shiiteism. It must be noted that even these two Ayatollahs had no good relations with Iranian Shiites. None of them is in the list of leaders approved by the Islamic theological centers of Qom in Iran, as leaders that can be sources of emulation (Taqleed). The Qom Islamic Theological Center has always tried to be a rival for the Najaf Islamic Theological Center.
Another example of difference in the Shiiteism of two countries was that neither Saddam nor Khomeini was able to use the Shiite card in the 8 years of war between two countries. This is not because they did not try. They did but it did not work. A great number of Iraqis who fought against Iran were Iraqi Shiites. The Shiites of Iraq never paid any attention to the religious orders of Khomeini (that called himself the leader of Shiites of the world. Khamenie claims the same now) for rejecting the orders of Saddam.
The two regimes will be a serious rival for each other. Both of them will claim the leadership of the Shiite Islam (or even all Islam). Perhaps the best example is or was the situation of Bathist regimes in Iraq and Syria. Although they both were apparently adhering to a mixture of socialisms and Arabic nationalism, they never managed to accept each other. Not withstanding the recent overtures of Syria toward the tomb of the dead regime of Iraq, they were one of the worst enemies of each other, during the 8 years of war between Iran and Iraq. Syria, headed by the Hafiz Assad (the so called Bismarck of Middle East) was the only Arab country that supported Iran in international forums and some Arab gatherings after being paid in free Iranian oil. (Preferring the Arabic sentiments towards Iran, he never supported Iran on the issue of three Iranian islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Mousa. The General position of Arabs is that Iran, just like Israel, is occupier of Arab lands).
So, why are the radicals who control Iran trying to persuade the Shiite clergies to grab the power in Iraq, in spite of internal pressures (especially by the Reformists) and outside pressures (by the US and its allies) and also the fact that there is no chance for an Iranian style regime in Iraq?
The Iranian regime has been aware that Americans are after them. Almost two years ago, the former foreign minister of Iran and present Head of the Advisory Office of the Supreme Leader in International Affairs, said US would attack Iran in the next two years. At that time, there were no developments in Afghanistan and later Iraq. Now, it is clear that following quick military victories of the only superpower of the world, US is ready to strike the next member of the "Evil Axis" in implementation of the latest version of "New World Order" which is going to change the international law and relations.
The only thing that Iranian regime can do in this situation is creation of situation that keeps Americans engaged, confused and tired in Iraq. Iran is interested to make the presence of the US in Iraq as difficult, thorny and long as possible so that she doest not dare to think about going after other cases, including and especially Iran. Iranian regime is ready to play the Iraqi card for its survival.
Bahman Aghai Diba, Ph.D., International
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