A Brave Old World

Is Iran the future of Iraq?

With religious Shiite parties poised to take power in the new constitutional assembly, leading Shiite clerics are pushing for Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution.


At the very least, the clerics say, the constitution should ensure that legal measures overseeing personal matters like marriage, divorce and family inheritance fall under Shariah, or Koranic law. For example, daughters would receive half the inheritances of sons under that law.


Shiite politicians, recognizing a possible backlash from secular leaders and the Americans, have publicly promised not to install a theocracy similar to that of Iran, or allow clerics to run the country. But the clerics of Najaf, the holiest city of Shiite Islam, have emerged as the greatest power in the new Iraq. They forced the Americans to conform to their timetable for a political process. Their standing was bolstered last Sunday by the high turnout among Shiite voters and a widespread boycott by the Sunni Arabs, and the clerics will now wield considerable behind-the-scenes influence in the writing of the constitution through their coalition built around religious parties.

It's easy to forget that Iran started out promising not to install a repressive theocracy or allowing clerics to run the country. In fact, for the first few years Ayatollah Khomeini barred clerics from senior government positions. That stood until the MEK, which was the marginalized-group-cum-insurgency, launched a particularly ferocious and sustained series of attacks. The bombings were so stunning and sweeping reprisal so expected that it was barely noticed when Khomeini, amidst the other elements of his crack down, lifted the ban and began installing clerics. And so Iran became a theocracy.

So, to distill, the ingredients there were an Islamic power base in government, a vicious insurgency, and a starting moderation that helped the Islamists achieve power but that they never wanted in the first place. Connect the dots. And get depressed.