|Shi'ite party rises from the
By Aaron Glantz
ARBIL, In the early days of the US
occupation of Iraq, when the international media
were discovering mass graves throughout the
country, journalists of all types were documenting
the full scope of the old regime's brutality.
Having just arrived myself, I paid a visit
to the Free Prisoners Committee. The US military
had given Saddam Hussein's political prisoners an
old Ba'ath Party building and custody of many of
the regime's prison records.
A visit to
the center allowed me to delve deeper into
Saddam's human rights record. When I got there, I
found that a preponderance of them were members of
the Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party of Iraq's now
likely next prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari.
Looking back on it now, I can see the rise
of Shi'ite religious parties as the most logical
conclusion to almost two years of occupation and
resistance. Shi'ites make up more than 60% of
Iraq's population (about 26 million), and Shi'ite
political movements had always been ruthlessly
suppressed by Saddam.
Founded as a
movement to make Iraq an Islamic Republic, the
Da'wa Party became emboldened after Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah of Iran and
imposed his version of Islamic law in 1979.
After the revolution in Iran, the leader
of the Da'wa Party, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed
Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr (uncle of current US enemy,
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr) issued a religious order,
or fatwa, prohibiting Muslims from joining the
Ba'ath Party or its affiliated organizations. He
then led a wave of massive demonstrations against
Saddam's regime throughout the country.
response, Saddam detained Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr
and brought him to Baghdad, putting him under
house arrest. His sister Bint al-Huda went to the
holy shrine of Imam Ali and gave a fiery speech
urging Iraqis to demonstrate against the
government and to protect their leader.
the news of his arrest spread, riots broke out
across Iraq - in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Samawa,
Kuwt, Diwaniyya, Karbala, and other cities. The
bazaar in Najaf shut down; angry crowds clashed
with the police. The whole city seemed under siege
as the government rapidly increased its security
efforts. The spread of violence forced the regime
to free Sadr the next day.
But the victory
for the Da'wa Party was short-lived. Tension
between Saddam's secular Ba'ath regime and Sadr's
Islamic Da'wa Party continued to rise. Islamic
activists threw a bomb at Ba'ath Party leader
Tariq Aziz (now in US custody as one of Iraq's 52
most wanted) at Mustansuriye University, injuring
him and killing his bodyguards. At the public
funeral for the guards, another bomb was thrown at
the funeral procession. Several more were killed.
Saddam responded by calling for revenge
against the perpetrators. On March 31, 1980, the
regime's Revolutionary Command Council passed a
law sentencing to death all past and present
members of the Da'wa Party, its affiliated
organizations, and people working for its goals.
To the end, Sadr refused to back down. In
a message issued shortly before his execution,
Sadr issued an ultimatum to his followers: topple
the regime and establish an Islamic government in
"It is incumbent on every
Muslim in Iraq and every Iraqi outside Iraq to do
whatever he can, even if it costs him his life, to
keep the jihad and struggle to remove this
nightmare from the land of beloved Iraq, to
liberate themselves from this inhuman gang, and to
establish a righteous, unique, and honorable rule
based on Islam," he said.
forces came for Sadr and his sister on April 5,
1980, and detained them in the headquarters of the
National Security Agency in Baghdad. Two weeks
later, Iran's Khomeini announced their executions.
When the expected revolt came, then US president
Jimmy Carter stood by as Saddam's forces killed
tens of thousands. The last thing Washington
wanted was another Khomeini in Iraq. Carter, it
seemed, preferred Saddam.
But while Carter
turned a blind eye to Saddam's crackdown, Iraq's
now likely next prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari,
fought the regime. A medical doctor who joined the
Da'wa Party as a student in 1968, he became a
leader in the party and - like many other members
of the victorious Shi'ite slate in the January 30
election - fled to Iran after Saddam's crackdown.
There he spent a decade organizing armed
resistance to Saddam's regime at a time when
Washington, under Ronald Reagan, supported
Saddam's government in its war against clerical
Over time, though, Jaafari moderated
his support for the Iranian modal. In 1989,
Jaafari left Iran for Britain at a time when the
Da'wa Party split into two camps - one which
backed closer ties with Iran, and the other
opposing Iranian influence. Jaafari, like other
members of the victorious Shi'ite slate, now
opposes direct clerical rule, but rather sees
Islam as a "source for legislation", particularly
in areas such as family law and inheritance. In
2004, when he served on the US-appointed Iraqi
Governing Council, he pushed for a rule that would
have adopted Islamic law on the status of women.
It was of course not through this
geopolitical lens that visitors to the Free
Prisoners Committee viewed the deaths of their
loved ones in the early days of the occupation.
"Terrible things were happening to all us Iraqi
people under that psychopath Saddam Hussein," one
Ali Mohammed told me after finding the records of
two of his four brothers. "I don't want to thank
America for that because God is the person who
pushed America to liberate us from Saddam Hussein.
We are thankful to God."
I asked Ali
Mohammad if he was optimistic about the future.
"Only God knows," he replied. "If the Americans
stay here, I don't think the future will be good."
"Why?" I asked. "We are Muslims," came the
answer. "We can't allow other people who are not
Muslims to come here and rule us. No man could
just let the invaders rule. We will fight against
that. Invasion is not the right thing to do for
any people. We don't hate the American people, but
we don't like invasions and we will fight."
Almost two years after the invasion of
Iraq, Shi'ite religious parties turned to a
non-violent method of resistance. They used an
election organized by Washington to elect a slate
of candidates the US government had tried to
suppress throughout the 1980s.
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