Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Other tings are not important!

I'm still not exactly sure why I decided to hit the road few days ago to Iraq's revered southern Shiite province of Najaf to see for the first time in my life Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric by many Shiites inside and outside Iraq.

Was it my curiosity as a journalist to see the man who has been politically influential and has had his fingerprints on Iraq's political landscape since 2003 U.S.-led invasion? Or was it my worries about our future that drove me to seek anything on what direction we are heading to as U.S. troops leaving us after all these long eight years?

I left my house at 5:30 a.m. to arrive before 9:30 a.m. that set for the meeting as I heard that convoys of leaving U.S. troops were making real traffic on the international road that links Iraq with Kuwait.

I was supposed to join around 30 of Al-Sistani's followers in my neighborhood who left the day before for their annual meeting with their leader. It was still dark and the main road in my neighborhood was decorated with dozens of black flags and banners used by Shiites to mourn the anniversary of the seventh century death of Imam Hussein which falls today.

The number of the flags and banners increased significantly this year in my neighborhood.

Did the Shiites do that on purpose to declare the neighborhood, which is long considered as a religiously-mixed and almost secular one, as a Shiite one? Or did they want to tell the Sunnis that they are the majority here and that they have to accept this reality even though there is one Shiite mosque against three Sunnis?

Three hours later, I arrived Najaf and there was indeed traffic on the road because of the leaving U.S. troops. Just like the early weeks after the invasion, dozens of Humvees, armored personal carriers and army trucks were put on long convoys of flat truck carriers with fully staffed bags of U.S. troops dwindling from some of them.

Amway, I arrived early and it was cold that morning so I had a cup of sweet tea while joining dozens of other people who gathered at the pillared street where Al-Sistani's home/office is located just few meters from the doorstep of Imam Ali shrine, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and Shiite Islam's most sacred martyr.

The majority of them were youth in casual cloths while others were in dishdasha, or traditional Arabic shirtdress and either in white or black-and-white kofiya scarf. At least a dozen of body guards in beige uniforms with some of them armed with Kalashnikovs and holding two-way radio transceivers were deployed in the narrow alley that leads to the house/office.

The guards were organizing the visitors entry by putting them in lines and searching them carefully from top to bottom. Other guards were in civilian cloths who were deployed on the sidewalks who approach individuals standing alone in front of the alley, asking them what they were waiting for and their IDs.

About an hour later, our turn came.

Watches, cell phones, pens, keys, rings and wallets were not allowed inside. We had to grab black plastic bags from a bunch hung on the wall at the beginning of the alley to put them in and to leave them at the reception. The guards then led us to the doorstep and into to a corridor where we took off our shoes and then to waiting room.

Few minutes later a small metal door was unlocked and one of the guards invited us to get in to the second room which was furnished with modest carpets and mattress. At one corner, Al-Sistani stood as he was shaking our hands with his both small, smooth and thin hands. In each corner of the room, there was a guard.

Standing om his feet to shake hands with hundreds of visitors, the gentle press he makes while shaking hands and the glitter in his eyes all say that the nearly 84-year old Iranian-born cleric looked in good health condition.

I just sat opposite to him about three or four meters away so that I can hear everything. But the ten-minute meeting didn't bring me the needed answers but in contrary it increased my worries and the ambiguity surrounding our future.

He mentioned twice the word "enemies" who want to decrease the number of Shiites in Baghdad where they are "majority." Although he didn't specify who are the enemies but it is widely understood among the Shiites as mainly Sunni extremists.

"Everyday in the morning prayers I pray specially for Baghdad's residents. I always say that a Shiite in Baghdad is equal to five like me in Najaf," he said with a clear Arabic but with Farsi accent obvious, referring to the hardships Shiites face in Baghdad.

"You are the majority in Baghdad and the enemies want to decrease your numbers," the black-turbaned cleric added. "Stay unified; Shiite and Sunnis and hold to your Islamic and Arab identity. The enemies want to make enemies between you and divide you and to eras your Islamic and Arab identity."

He urged them to keep doing their rites which can be translated as: keep showing that you are the majority in this country and that you need to keep on the gains you have been enjoying since 2003.

So the message was clear: the priority for Iraq's Shiites in years to come is to continue fighting to stay the majority in Baghdad and then in Iraq. Pour in millions into the streets and keep beating your chests and heads and whipping yourselves with chains to honor the death of your most revered saints.

Other things like how to rebuild your country, how to fix your fragmented and war-battered society, what role you have to take to revitalize your ailing economy and so on are not important!



Anonymous said...

Interesting. As a total outsider (New Zealander who never supported the Invasion of Iraq) I would suggest that "By their fruit ye shall know them".

So if Clerics like Al-Sistani have a lot of influence, but things do not improve, then you need another remedy.

I imagine that a new generation of Iraqis may be needed for real change, but you have to start somewhere. How about starting a new political party? It would take immense sustained effort to get anywhere, but others would notice that, and offer their help

Baghdad's Kassakhoon said...

I agree with you. We need change, but this will take years. Such new political party can't stand among all these rich and influential parties which dominate now.

I believe that the change will come when we separate politics and religious. Clerics must stay in their homes, offices and mosques only to advise on religious issues and leave politics for politicians.

This will leave the politicians who enjoy the support of those clerics on shaky ground and that will allow to the second generation to work.

But as I said this will take time.

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