Thursday, September 1, 2022

Two Iraq explainers

A short, clear Tweet thread.

A much longer, similar explanation from Vox, and with this:

Can I get in the weeds of Shia political authority for a bit? Muqtada al-Sadr, although he wears a turban and looks very much like a cleric, doesn’t have the clerical authority to become a spiritual guide for Shia.

Shia Muslims have to find a particular high-ranking cleric who is able to direct them in personal matters, social matters, and sometimes even political matters. In order to become that person, though, you have to go through a lot of training and reach this level, where you become an ayatollah essentially. Muqtada’s father, who formed the base of the Sadrist movement that we see today, he was both an ayatollah and a social-movement leader.

Muqtada inherited this movement but couldn’t fill in that void of being a spiritual guide. The person who stepped in was someone named Kadhim al-Haeri, who was a student of his father’s and who became the spiritual guide for Muqtada and the movement. Him and Muqtada have had an on-and-off relationship; there were points of disagreement. But prior to Muqtada’s tweet, and what really prompts the tweet, is that last week Haeri releases a statement — keep in mind, he lives in Iran right now — and in the statement, there’s two things that are important.

First, he makes the unprecedented move of abandoning his office and saying he no longer wants to be a spiritual guide for anyone, and that if any of his followers are looking for where to go next, they should go to Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. This is unprecedented in the Shia religious establishment; no one gives up their position as a spiritual guide and tells someone to go elsewhere. And it’s very strange why it’s Khamenei who he picks to be the next spiritual guide. This is the first blow in the statement for Muqtada al-Sadr, who built his entire movement around being an Iraqi nationalist and anti-Iranian, to be told that he and his followers should turn to Khamenei.

The second big blow is Haeri criticizes Muqtada in the statement. He says that he is not a true inheritor of the legacy of the Sadr family, this illustrious family of clerics who has been involved in Iraq for decades. He also says that Muqtada al-Sadr is creating this strife and chaos and a lot of tension among the Shia. He never says [Sadr’s] name, by the way, but it’s very clear who he’s talking about.

And this letter must be a slap in the face to Muqtada al-Sadr, to be so criticized by someone so close to your father, that the next day we see this response. So that’s the trigger point.