Friday, January 04, 2008

What Hakim said

The full text of the talk by Abdulaziz al-Hakim in Najaf on Thursday is available on the Supreme Council's website Let's take a look at what he said.

This is the run-up to Ashura, the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein, which falls on January 19 this year, and Hakim explained that every year, there is a sort of State of our Union message that looks at the political, cultural, and social issues facing the Shiite community in the coming year. First he takes these points up with explicit reference to seventh-century history. Last year the main points included the importance of dialogue, and the principle of not being the initiator of violence, but fighting only in self defense. This year, he said, there is another issue, based on the refusal of Hussein to buckle under to the demands of obeisance from Maawiyah bin Abi Sofiyan, the tyrant of Damascus who was to be the founder of the Umayyad caliphate, and his son Yazid. Hussein refused to pledge allegiance, Hakim reminded his listeners, because he knew this was unjust and illegal regime, and allegiance would mean the end of his own moral authority and the honor of the group. So a major theme this year will be the refusal to buckle under to an unjust and corrupt system, in a steadfast way:
And this is a lesson for us in our lives today, in the sense that we have to learn to say what is the right, but with consideration for the common good (or common "reconciliation": same word). And the consideration for the common good which is connected to the lives of people generally, is not something that can be judged by anyone at their whim, or on the basis of a personal opinion, because the result of that would be chaos. Rather, those who should judge this are those who are experts in the conditions of the times, and grounded in religion...[and he further describes the ayatollahs, adding that everyone has an obligation to be guided by them].
So far so good. The absolute obligation to stick to the "right" is modified by a need to merge that with the common good, and that has to be done according to "the conditions of the time" as interpreted by those trained in religion to do so. So next Hakim goes on to talk about the "conditions of the time" in terms of currently outstanding problems. He starts that section off like this:
Today we face a number of problems that require serious attention from all of us in order to bring Iraq to a safe shore, particularly after all of the achievements owing to the persistence and sacrifices of Iraqis in these past years, both before and after the fall of the former regime--and among these problems is the existence of criminal gangs with Saddamist roots that are trying to impose their control on the country, and their means include killing and threatening and terror to attain their aim of hegemony and theft and imposition of tribute (or tax) on the people and robbing them and killing loyal people particularly those in positions in the marjaiyya...[and he goes on to recount in detail the killings of Najaf authorities recently and under the Saddam regime] And these gangs are filled with hatred and resentment for this line [of Shiite authorities] being the same line that they have been killing for over three decades...These are Saddamist Baathists who took the decision to work under various pretexts and various names to set fitna among Iraqis, and within the single entity [I think this means: and also Shia-on-Shia fitna], and they have tried to establish a condition of chaos as they did with their attacks on the quiet city of Amara. These [Saddamist Baathists] are they who have undertaken all of these crimes, whether under different names or anonymously. And it is incumbent on you to understand them and their atrocities in the various regions of the country, and to let the people know about them; and to stand up to them because it is not possible to accept them, or to be silent, or to submit to them....
The gist of this is that the aspect of the life of the Imam Hussein that the times call on Shiites to emulate is that of steadfast refusal to buckle under to injustice and illegality. And the above text shows that what Hakim wants his people to preach this coming year is the continuing confrontation with the Saddamist Baathists, under whatever name they may be operating. There is no mention in this particular section of his talk of the takfiiris, salafis, ISI, AlQaeda, or any such thing. Which is of course noteworthy, considering that the ideology of killing apostates, including Shiites, is their ideology, not that of the Baathists. In any event, this is the second point I would like to emphasize, namely that Hakim's overall theme for the coming year is continued resistance to what he calls the Saddamist Baathists, and he wants his preachers to spread the word about that.

Next, and comprising the body of his talk, there is a list of sixteen specific areas where there is need of improvement, starting with improvements in the daily lives of individuals through better services and so on; then fighting government corruption; then speeding up the rebuilding of the shrines at Samara; then preservation of the unity of Shiites, where he adds: "We are convinced that preservation of their unity by the People of the Household (Shiites) in Iraq is the basis of national unity, so it is incumbent on everyone to work for the strengthening and solidity of that unity".

His sixth point has to do with national reconciliation, and the key part goes like this:
National reconciliation is the lofty aim we all work for in order to overcome the past, once [literally: after] the oppressed have obtained their rights and the oppressors their punishment for the crimes they have committed against citizens. Today we are seeing terror being driven out of more places in Iraq, and progress in reconciliation on the popular level, and we are seeing Shiites and Sunnis coming together in many areas, following the attempts by the terrorists and the takfiiris to push Iraqis to the brink of civil war through killing based on [sectarian or racial] identity, and operations [aimed at causing forced] evacuation. And we are seeing progress on the level of contacts between Shia and Sunni clerics, with conferences in Najaf, Basra, Baghdad and other places, and these meetings have had a major effect. So I urge on you the necessity of continuing in this line, so as to achieve greater unity and rapprochement in the interests of harmony and concord.
It was from this section of his talk that the media picked up the theme of Hakim's "surprisingly conciliatory" remarks about the awakening councils.

Continuing, Hakim enumerates other areas in need of improvement, including (7) improvement in the status of women; (8)more help for the poor; (9) encouraging the return to the government of those who have left; (10) independence of Iraq via a bilateral treaty with the US, thus ending the UN mandate; (11) more progress in construction and development; (12) preparation for the next round of elections.

And next comes the section on federalism, which reads as follows:
The concept of a centralized state in Iraq has ended, under the auspices of (or with the continuation of) the acknowledgment in the Iraqi constitution of a federal state and the establishment of a Kurdish region in Iraq. And according to the Iraqi constitution the Iraqi state is a state protective of compromise (or "reconciliation": same word), and not authoritarian, and what that means is that all are bound by the constitution and are bound to give rights for the establishment of regions, and grant to the governates broad powers, as the constitution says. Unfortunately there have are some who continue, still today, to think with the mentality of the centralized state, and work to constrain the governments and to not grant them the prerogatives (or benefits) that the constitution calls for, on various pretexts....
And Hakim goes on to note cases where provinces have done a lot more in terms of development and so on than has the central government.

There are a couple of important points. First, this is a sweeping rejection of the whole "mentality of a centralized state". I don't think you can find in these statements any justification for thinking Hakim is proposing federalism as merely a distribution of powers once a strong central government has been established. On the contrary: First of all he says the whole concept of a centralized state is finished. And secondly his constitutional principle of "compromise" rather than "authority" means that governates under the current system, not to mention federal regions under a future system, should be favored. (Please note: I am not talking here about what the constitution says or doesn't say, but only about what Hakim's views are, namely that they seem to be radically anti-central-government).

So there is first of all a historical mission to stand up to tyranny and illegality which translates into a continued need to expose and confront the Saddamist Baathists who continue to try to tyrannize the country. And while there has been progress in reconciliation "on the popular level", and "on the level of contacts between Shiite and Sunni clerics", still Hakim describes national reconciliation as that lofty aim that will come about after the oppressed have obtained their rights and the oppressors have been punished. How this implied settling of accounts with the Saddamist Baathists is supposed to come about Hakim doesn't say, but obviously, to say the least, things like de-DeBaathification on the national level are not part of his program for this year. The progress he sees in popular-level and clerical-level rapprochement is on one level; but the historical mission having to do with vindicating the rights of the oppressed seems to be on a whole other level.

And it seems his position on federalism reflects this. Speaking in Najaf about federalism clearly implies the big Shiite nine-governate federal region. And his proposed constitutional principle that would put "compromise" ahead of "authority" as an overall principle when it comes to regional or even provincial affairs, shows that his focus is not on elevating the recent local progress into reconciliation on a national level, but rather his focus is on the big Shiite region, which is something that can be fostered and developed without compromising that historical mission of refusing to buckle under to the ever-present threat of Baathist tyranny.

That seems to be the picture. Now whether Hakim delivered this sermon or anything like it in the Oval Office is probably doubtful. Still the question remains: Did the US administration pick Hakim and his group to be their ally not understanding their world-view; or did they pick Hakim and his group to be their ally with an understanding of their world-view and knowing what this would could mean for the structure of a post-occupation Iraq?


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