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  • Author: Reidar Visser
  • Publication Date: 04-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: This paper discusses the two prevailing interpretations of the political attitudes of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq today. It is argued that neither the traditional "quietist" paradigm nor more recent Machiavellian interpretations can satisfactorily explain Sistani's actions. An alternative interpretation is offered which highlights Sistani's historical oscillation between passive and activist positions. It is suggested that, after an activist intermezzo from June 2003 to December 2004, Sistani has reverted to a more secluded role, again showing an increasing reluctance to fulfil the wishes of his many wooers in Iraqi politics, and limiting his interference to matters directly connected with the Shiite faith and its institutions. It is concluded that Sistani's professional interests as a cleric – rather than any constant desire on his part to control and manipulate domestic politics – may be the key to understanding any future intervention in the political process in Iraq. Scepticism is also expressed toward the notion of Sistani as a guarantor for a "moderate" or "secular" Iraqi political system that would supposedly be fundamentally different from that of Iran – an idea that has featured prominently in policy-making circles in the United States and in other Western countries currently involved in Iraq.
  • Topic: International Relations, Politics, Religion
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Reidar Visser
  • Publication Date: 08-2005
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: This paper deals with non-conformist ideas among Iraqi Shi'is about the territorial integrity of the modern state of Iraq. Two findings are presented. First, new Internet communications technology has enabled radical Shi'is outside the main clerical, intellectual and political establishments to propagate visions of an independent Shi'i state for the areas south of Baghdad, a scheme that runs counter to a robust and long-standing anti-separatist tradition among wider sections of the Shi'i community. Secondly, by choosing the Internet as their primary modus operandi, the Shi'i separatists also expose their relative weakness vis-à-vis other and less radical trends in Iraqi Shi'i society.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Development, Religion
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East