Thursday, February 21, 2008

Arbaeen against the occupation

The Arbaeen starts next week, and tens of thousands of pilgrims are on their way to the Karbala for the occasion. Fadhil Rashad writes in Al-Hayat:
Karbala and the surrounding cities are experiencing a major sandstorm, which however isn't keeping the visitors from continuing their journeys on foot to the city...from cities in some cases hundreds of kilometers away, in pilgrimages that in some cases can take ten days or a month or more, such as those from Basra, and they hold many-colored flags, and some of them hold up portraits of their religious leaders, the most prominent being the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr. The followers of Sadr generally wear a white gown, symbolizing their willingness to "face up to wearing the shroud". And on their way they chant phrases praising their leaders, and attacking the occupation forces and those that cooperate with them. And these processions and rest-camps stretch all with way from Basra to Karbala, and from Baghdad to Karbala also.
Meanwhile in Karbala, security officials have been regularly reporting arrests of persons they say belong to the "Adherents of the Mahdi", one of the groups focused on the coming appearance of the 12th Iman, and who the authorities say are planning violence violence during the Arbaeen, just as they say they did in Basra and Nasiriya a couple of months ago. One of the main tenets of the Mahdists is the corruption of the Shiite religious establishment in Najaf, headed by the Ayatollah Sistani, because of their support for a corrupt, occupation-friendly government.

In other words, the Sadrists dressed in their white winding-sheets chanting against the "occupation forces and those who cooperate with them", share a fundamental political orientation with the Mahdists: Opposition to the Shiite establishment that is working with the occupation. In these circumstances, it is easy to see how persecution of the Mahdists could turn into a broader persecution of any person or groups that are too vociferous in their dissent.

This is worth bearing in mind when you read that escalating tensions between the Sadrists and the Supreme Council in the south are somehow related to the fact that a local-elections date was mentioned in the recently-passed law on provincial-government powers. First of all, before there can be elections there has to be a new law setting out election-procedures, and timing and possibilities for that are as vague as can be; and secondly, this whole idea of boiling down what is happening in Iraq to those factors that are most familiar to Western readers ("heightened conflict with the approach of elections!") represents not just leaving out those factors that are particular and peculiar to Iraq, but of distorting our view by ignoring the anti-occupation/anti-corruption feelings that are driving dissident groups of all kinds and persuasions. This distorted view is what makes it possible for people to think the continued presence of occupation troops can be a pacifying factor! (This is a politer way of saying what I was also getting at in the prior post).