Dispatches > The Buzz

SCIRI radicals

A new Governing Council gives Islamists both a podium and authority

Issue: "Class warfare on vouchers," Aug. 23, 2003

An Aug. 13 riot in Sadr City, a Shiite slum neighborhood in Baghdad, shows the difficulty U.S. forces must confront with Iraq's radical Islamists. A U.S. helicopter flying close to an Islamic school blew off its flag, and locals responded with rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Muslim anger at American caretakers obviously is stirred by radical leaders. The question is: What will Iraq's new Governing Council do about it?

The Governing Council is the interim local body appointed by the United States to begin the process of turning over to Iraqis a free Iraq. Despite claims from the autocratic Muslim Brotherhood and the socialist UN that it isn't democratic enough, the council's 25 members draw from Iraq's political, ethnic, and religious spectrum: 13 Shiites, five Sunni Arabs, five Sunni Kurds, one Assyrian Christian Arab, and one Turkman.

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Shiite representatives on the Governing Council include a few too many radicals for comfort, including the secretary-general of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood and a Shiite cleric named Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim. The council includes two more representatives from radical Shiite parties, along with two with ties to Iraqi Hezbollah-in all, seven staunch Islamists to lead a new Iraq.

Mr. Hakim is the brother of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al-Hakim, who heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, an Iranian-styled resistance group formed in Saddam-imposed exile in Iran 20 years ago. SCIRI also has an Iran-funded and armed militant wing known as the Badr Brigade, according to Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance. Only recently returned to Iraq, SCIRI is now Iraq's largest and most well-organized political group. Its headquarters are in al-Najaf, where restive local Shiites in July pressed coalition forces to remove from office the Sunni mayor.

Iraq's Christian minority has long worried that Shiite radicals in a post-Saddam Iraq would agitate for an Islamic political agenda, including the imposition of Shariah law. While the Bush administration will oppose strict Islamic law in a democratic Iraq-and U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer has veto power over the council to back it up-the minority fears are not unfounded. Authority on the council gives SCIRI and others a podium for influencing (and intimidating) Iraqi media as well as masses-all in the name of democracy-to adopt an agenda, in its words, to "enforce the Islamic order."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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