Iraq after America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance

Iraq after America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance

by Joel Rayburn


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817916947
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press
Publication date: 08/01/2014
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Joel Rayburn is a contributor to the Hoover Institution's Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, and a U.S. Army officer with more than 20 years of experience in intelligence and political-military affairs, including multiple combat tours in the Middle East and South Asia. He specializes in historical and strategic analyses of the modern Middle East. He lives in Stanford, California.

Read an Excerpt

Iraq after America

Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance

By Joel Rayburn

Hoover Institution Press

Copyright © 2014 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8179-1698-5


The Roots of the Dawa State

The period after December 2010 brought sweeping political changes in the Arab world, with popular movements toppling authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen and shaking another in Syria. Political developments in Iraq, however, went in the opposite direction. An ostensibly democratic system put in place after Saddam Hussein's fall began to revert to authoritarian form, as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his allies managed to marginalize their political rivals and consolidate substantial control over the Iraqi state.

The origins of this new Maliki regime lie in a nearly forgotten political struggle that took place more than five decades ago between Iraqi leftists and the Shia Islamists of Najaf and Karbala who mobilized to oppose them. Out of this battle grew Iraq's great Shia Islamist party, Dawa, the forerunner of every major Iraqi Shia party since. Modeled after Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Dawa built a huge grassroots following among the Iraqi Shia in the 1960s, only to be crushed by Saddam Hussein after a decade-long Dawa-Baathist struggle that ended on the eve of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. Saddam's furious offensive against Dawa drove the party underground, where the formerly populist movement narrowed into an insular revolutionary vanguard in which young men like Maliki trained as militants.

The Dawa Movement

Those who have become used to the scene of millions of Shia pilgrims making their way through crowded streets and squares to Najaf and Karbala can be forgiven for not remembering that the Dawa Party's origins lie in a time when the pilgrimage roads were empty. Exactly one year after the July 1958 massacre of the Iraqi royal family brought the leftist regime of General Abd al-Karim Qasim to power in Baghdad, the clerics of Iraq's shrine cities were dismayed to see only a few hundred pilgrims appear for the annual procession celebrating the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein, the lowest numbers ever registered. To the clerical establishment's horror, Qasim's ascendancy brought a brief golden age for the atheistic Communist Party in Iraq, the home of Shiism. Lacking his own popular base, Qasim found the Communists useful allies, and during his regime's early days the party's membership swelled to more than twenty-five thousand, with particular appeal to the Shia youth of Iraq's growing cities. In the holy city of Najaf, Communist demonstrations drew larger crowds than the religious festivals that had always been essential to the power and economic livelihood of Iraq's shrine cities. An even harder blow, perhaps, was that the Communists counted among their followers some sons of Iraq's leading ayatollahs. For Iraq's Shia clerics, the message was clear: Shia Islam was losing the Iraqi people, especially the youth, to godless Marxism, and something had to be done.

The senior clerics of Iraq's holy cities were not well-equipped to lead the kind of dramatic changes and outreach that would be required to counter the Communist Party's growing strength. During centuries of Sunni rule in Iraq, the Shia clerical establishment had adopted a mainly quietist approach to political matters. Shia Islam's response to Marxism thus came not from its clerical leaders, the small circle of spiritual guides known as the marjaiyyah, but from a cadre of young Najafi clerics who embraced political activism as their elders were disinclined to do. In the months after Qasim's seizure of power, these young men founded a religious society, modeled on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, whose aim would be to restore the people to Islam by forming a network of laymen and propagating new ideas of political Islam. In 1960, this small movement named itself the Dawa Party.

The central concept of Dawa — which in Arabic means "the call" — was the pan-Islamic idea of returning laymen to Islamic traditions and reconciling Islamic jurisprudence with the needs of modern societies. As conceived by its founders, the Dawa Party was meant to be a cross-sectarian organization, working to transform society rather than seize political power. Dawa's founders, like those of the Muslim Brotherhood, believed that if society could be re-Islamicized, then eventually Islamic government would follow. Their goals and rhetoric were universal and pan-Islamic in nature, and in its early days Dawa sought to attract Sunni members as well as Shia ones.

The Original Sadrists

Despite its pan-Islamic goals, the new Dawa movement drew upon some familiar Shia names for support. Family members of one of Iraq's grand ayatollahs, Muhsin al-Hakim, had led protests against Qasim's socialist land reforms in 1958 and were an important link between activists and the Najaf religious colleges known as the hawza. Dawa's founding members also included the Najaf-born Lebanese cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who in later life became the spiritual father of Lebanese Hezbollah as well as the marja (spiritual guide) for the Dawa Party itself, illustrating Dawa's transnational links and regionwide aims.

But the core of the new movement's ideas and energy came from a trio of great-grandsons of Ismail Sadr, one of the most esteemed Shia marjaiyyah of the early twentieth century. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, not yet thirty at Dawa's founding in 1959 but already among the most respected clerics in Najaf, wrote the treatises that became Dawa's ideology, the party's intellectual center. He eventually met an untimely end at the hands of Saddam Hussein in 1980, leaving behind a young son, Jafaar Baqir Sadr, who later would be elected to the Iraqi parliament in 2010.

Muhammad Baqir's older first cousin and brother-in-law Musa al-Sadr, meanwhile, did his work among the Shia of Lebanon, founding the Amal Movement before being murdered by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi during an ill-fated visit to Libya in 1978 — a crime that rankles Shia Arabs to this day. Added to these older Sadrs was their younger first cousin Muhammad Sadiq Sadr, only a teenager at Dawa's founding but destined to create a mass movement among Iraq's urban Shia poor that challenged the Baathist regime before his murder in 1999. Sadiq Sadr's movement was eventually commanded by his youngest son, Muqtada al-Sadr, who himself married a daughter of Muhammad Baqir Sadr and became a brother-in-law to Jafaar Baqir Sadr. The Sadiq and Baqir Sadr families were even further intertwined: Muqtada Sadr's older brothers Mustafa and Muammal had also married daughters of Baqir Sadr, meaning that three sons of Sadiq Sadr married three daughters of Baqr Sadr.

These three Sadr cousins, Muhammad Baqir, Musa, and Muhammad Sadiq, worked their entire lives to coax Arab Shia populations away from the leftist movements — first Communism and then Baathism — that swept the Middle East during the Cold War. Their method was to foster people conversant in Marxism who could advocate for Islam as a competing worldview. Breaking the tradition of Shia quietism and disinterest in politics, Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr in particular sought to reconcile Shia jurisprudence with the matters that concerned a modern state, including economics (Iqtisaduna, 1961) and political philosophy. Baqir Sadr's "Our Philosophy" (Falsafatuna, 1959) employed the dialectic and discussed the merits of Hegel and Marx while presenting Islam as a viable alternative to both Marxism and capitalism. In his battle of ideas, Baqir Sadr was aided by the determination of Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim to use Shia traditions to repel Communism, such as Hakim's fatwa forbidding his followers from membership in the Iraqi Communist Party in 1960. Together, the three Sadrs and their activist associates in the broader Shia Islamist movement touched off a struggle for the soul of Shia Iraq that is still playing out, with Shia Islam on one side and Arab Socialism on the other.

Dawa and Muhammad Baqir Sadr against the Baath

From its small beginnings in Najaf, Dawa grew rapidly in the 1960s. Iraq's military regime became increasingly dominated by Sunnis, alienating many Shia from the regime, while large Shia populations that had migrated into the cities during Iraq's industrialization sank into poverty. Iraq's teeming Shia slums were fertile ground for a religious reawakening, and by the late 1960s Baqir Sadr in particular claimed a huge following among those Iraqis, so much so that the Dawa Party he had helped to found began to outrun him. By the time the Baathist regime seized power in 1968, its leader General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and his kinsman-deputy Saddam Hussein perceived Dawa and its fellow travelers as a threat to the regime's legitimacy. In 1969, the Baathist regime took steps to curtail the Shia religious establishment's power, beginning with the suppression of the hawza and the expulsion of thousands of Shia students to forestall a supposed "Iranian threat." The hawza responded by confronting the regime head-on. The elderly grand marja' Muhsin Hakim denounced the regime's brutal tactics — including the imprisonment and torture of Hakim's own son Hujja — and forbade his followers from membership in the Baath, as he had forbidden Communist membership nine years before. The hawza's faceoff with the Baath intensified in 1970, when the exiled Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini delivered in Najaf a widely distributed series of lectures calling for an end to secular regimes and the adoption of Islamic government under clerical oversight, a concept known in Arabic as wilayat al-faqih, or "rule of the jurisprudent."

To the secular Baath, the idea was anathema, as was the prospect of Shia religious resistance to Baathist rule. Eventually, the regime outlawed Dawa altogether, and the Baathist security apparatus waged a shadow war against the party. In 1974, this campaign reached a fever pitch when the Baath arrested and executed dozens of Dawa activists, driving the group underground. In subsequent years, the regime banned the annual Shia religious processions out of fear they could be used to organize opposition to the regime.

The Baath were right to worry. Support for Dawa spilled into the open in 1977, when tens of thousands of Dawa followers held the procession in defiance of the Baathist ban. What had traditionally been a peaceful festival became an armed uprising when regime security forces and armed Dawa members engaged in gun battles within the larger procession. The regime eventually used helicopter gunships to put the Dawa pilgrims to flight.

The confrontation with the regime was more than Dawa had bargained for. Despite their defiance of the Baath, Dawa's leaders had hoped for lower-profile, evolutionary political change of the sort advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor had they sought to inspire a mass movement that would include the lowest strata of Iraqi Shia society. Even in the late 1970s, Dawa drew its members mainly from the Shia middle classes rather than from the urban poor. Nevertheless, the onset of the Iranian revolution pushed the party into an all-out battle with the Baath for which many Dawa leaders were unprepared. The fall of the Shah in 1979 and installation of an Islamic government in Iran electrified the Iraqi Shia and caused a groundswell of Shia support for the extension of the revolution into Iraq.

Dawa leaders were split on the question of whether to embrace the revolution and sponsor an uprising against the Baath or treat the toppling of the Shah as an Iranian matter and wait for more peaceful political change. But Dawa's deliberations were soon overtaken by events. A number of prominent Shia leaders threw their support behind the newly empowered Ayatollah Khomeini, including Muhammad Baqir Sadr himself. Fearing the potential for a Shia Islamist revolt, Saddam's security officials arrested Baqir Sadr in June 1979 and caused other Dawa leaders, including Muhammad Baqir Hakim, to flee to Iran. The regime made Dawa membership punishable by death and carried out dozens of executions in early 1980, in response to which some Dawa members formed a militant wing and began to carry out attacks and assassinations against regime targets. On April 1 of that year, Dawa attempted to assassinate senior Baathist Tariq Aziz in apparent retaliation for the execution of Dawa members the month before. Eight days later, on April 9, 1980, Saddam's regime punished Dawa by brutally executing Muhammad Baqir Sadr and his sister, Bint al-Huda, reportedly killing Baqir Sadr by driving a spike through his forehead after forcing him to watch Baathist torturers rape his sister.

The Dispersal and Fracturing of Dawa

These events had a profound effect on the Dawa movement. In the space of a few months, Dawa's leadership inside Iraq had been decimated, its intellectual father murdered, and most surviving senior- and mid-level members forced to flee the country. The impact of the regime's crackdown was no less significant at the grassroots level. For a large number of young Dawa followers, Nuri Maliki among them, the battle with the regime in 1977–80 would have been a formative experience, alienating them from the Saddamists who had killed so many of their colleagues, friends, and brothers. Like Maliki, who fled Iraq in 1979, many young Dawa men went into exile as hard-core revolutionaries committed to the overthrow of the Baathist regime.

At the organizational level, the dispersal of its leaders and activists led to the fragmentation of the Iraqi Shia Islamic movement under the combined pressure of Saddam's regime and the new Iranian regime in Tehran. In Iran, Dawa established a political office eventually headed by future Minister of Education Ali Adeeb, but many Dawa members left the parent organization when their Iranian hosts pressed them to join the Islamic revolutionary cause and shift their loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini and his doctrine of wilayat al-faqih. These changes in allegiance created serious tension among senior Dawa members, many of whom were troubled by the implications of adopting what they viewed as an Iranian doctrine. When one senior Dawa member in Tehran, the well-known cleric Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, called for Dawa to pledge allegiance to Khomeini in 1987, the party's Iraqi leaders decided to expel him. The expulsion was a significant loss for Dawa, since Haeri was a close ally of Muhammad Sadiq Sadr and would later become the spiritual mentor for Muqtada Sadr and the Sadrist movement.

The most notable Dawa "defection" to the Iranians came when senior Dawa member Muhammad Baqir Hakim worked with the Iranian regime to create the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) — later renamed the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI — a new organization drawn from the tens of thousands of Shia who had fled into Iran. As the Iran-Iraq War dragged on, SCIRI's militant wing, the Badr Corps, drew from thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war to field paramilitary units that fought on the Iranian side. By the early 1990s, soon after the war's end, Badr had established an extensive network that enabled some of these Iraqi operatives to infiltrate back into Iraq and carry out sabotage and subversion, overseen by an enigmatic Badr Corps leader named Mustafa al-Sheibani.

Dawa, the source of all Iraqi Shia political parties, was breaking into several distinct branches.

Dawa in Exile: Radical Revolutionaries

Though most Dawa exiles made their way initially to Iran, many did not remain there. Despite the Iranian regime's recruitment efforts, Iraqi exiles were not necessarily well treated by Iranians, who tended to look upon the Arab refugees with condescension. Dawa exiles established an office in Damascus and accepted the support of Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad, who by 1980 had become an archenemy to Saddam Hussein and the only Arab ally of Iran. Dawa members also ended up in Lebanon, where Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah had helped organize a sister Dawa organization of clerics who, like Fadlallah, had lived and studied in Najaf before settling in Lebanon. The twin Dawas, Iraqi and Lebanese, became a formidable militant alliance that developed close ties with, and in some cases merged into, Lebanese Hezbollah. In this incarnation, Dawa allegedly participated in some of the most significant terrorist acts of the 1980s, such as the bombing of the American and French embassies in Beirut and Kuwait and the assassination of the French ambassador to Lebanon. These Levant-based Iraqi Dawa members would have grown intimately familiar with Hezbollah operatives such as Imad Mughniyeh and senior Hezbollah clerics such as Muhammad Kawtharani, a former protégé of Muhammad Sadiq Sadr who later served as a liaison between Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shia religious movements. Dawa operatives also would have become familiar with the Iranian operatives, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, helping to direct Hezbollah, and Dawa militants probably participated in Iranian-led operations.


Excerpted from Iraq after America by Joel Rayburn. Copyright © 2014 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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Table of Contents

Foreword Charles Hill ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 3

The Strongmen

1 The Roots of the Dawa State 9

2 Dawa's Road to Nuri Maliki 21

3 The New Authoritarian Regime of Nuri Maliki 37

The Sectarians

4 The Shia Supremicists 73

5 The Sunni Chauvinists 97

6 The Kurdish Maximalists 133

The Resistance

7 The Iraqi Shia "Resistance" 171

The Post-American Iraq

8 Interregnum, Crackdown, and Spillover 209

9 The Enduring Dilemmas of Iraq 243

Epilogue 255

Source Notes 265

About the Author 287

About the Hoover Institutions Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order 288

Index 291

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