The tyrants in Tehran do have roots in Shi?ite tradition, but only in a tiny sect of the religion. The vast majority of Iranian clerics, in fact, despise the despots in power, though fear ensures their silence. The Iranian mullahs no more represent Shi?ite Islam than the Ku Klux Klan does Christianity.
Shi?ite Islam is less doctrinally rigid than its Sunni counterpart, meaning it is more open to incorporating things like science and new ideas, including the concept of secular democracy.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most recognizable and respected Shi?ite leader in Iraq, firmly believes in the separation of mosque and state. His belief is also held by mainstream Shi?ite Islam, which believes in the separation until the twelfth imam?who disappeared in the year 873?reappears as the rightful ruler. As he helps push Iraq towards free elections, Sistani is adamantly refusing to place himself in a leadership position in the new power structure?something he could easily achieve if he so desired.
For those who believe that Islam and democracy?at least in the Arab world?are mutually exclusive entities, al-Sadr, who is backed by the Iranian mullahs, is brought up as Exhibit A.
But as former Defense Department official Michael Rubin, who left Iraq recently after spending 18 months there, wrote in National Review Online, ?This week?s violence appears to have less to do with Iraqi sentiment than with Muqtada al-Sadr?s quest for power.?
And lest we forget, al-Sadr is on the lam because an Iraqi judge issued a warrant for his arrest months ago for his role in last year?s brutal murder of moderate Shi?ite cleric Majid al-Khoei, who was chopped to pieces in the holy Shrine of Imam Ali.
Seen by the Iraqi people as both a murderer and a stooge of the Iranian mullahs, al-Sadr?s support is rapidly declining. His campaign of violence is nothing more than a last desperate bid for power before ballots are cast in an election he could not hope to win.
In Iraq, especially given its large Shi?ite population, the U.S. has the ability to establish a beachhead of democracy in the Middle East. Now is not the time to give up.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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