Anti-sectarianism in Iraq

The popular presumption is that if you’re anti-sectarian, then you’re a hand-holding liberal. Well, anti-sectarianism in Iraq takes the form of radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. What? He’s a fundamentalist Islamist, I hear you say…

But consider this. As reported in the Financial Times (“Religious leaders to dominate Iraq’s election”, 23 October), mainstream Shia religious leaders see the forthcoming election as the best opportunity for the Shia to take advantage of their numerical supremacy. Mainstream Shia parties have been hoping that cleric Sadr would join them in a pan-Shia (sectarian) election ticket.

However, Sadr is not interested. He has said, “I am against any form of sectarianism. I am ready to vote for Sunnis and I hope Sunnis are ready to vote Shia.”

He has also praised for the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is a group of Sunni clerics who have links to insurgent groups operating in Sunni regions in Iraq.

Sadr’s secularism is not motivated by Western liberal ideals, but by as an Iraqi nationalist defending Iraq against foreign invaders, as explained by Naomi Klein (“The making of a hero”, Guardian, 7 October).

Be no mistake, Sadr is a fundamentalist. But in Klein’s opinion, attacking Sadr is an affront on the promise of offering democracy to Iraq. The US may not like his politics, but then what’s the point of having free elections if you’re not going to like the outcome (“Yankee go home”)?

There’s not going to be an immediate choice by Iraqis for a secular, democratic government. But American and British forces leaving Iraq could do more to unite the country, and ultimately provide political space for secular and progressive religious forces.

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