Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Fadlallah and Hizbullah
For an interesting insight into the intricacies of Iraqi Shiite politics, Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, has prepared this useful primer for Middle East Report Online.

However, one of Cole's passages is partly inaccurate. He writes: "[M]any in the Iraq al-Da'wa are loyal to Lebanese Hizballah leader Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. Fadlallah was born and educated in Najaf, going to Lebanon only in 1965. Hizballah has threatened violence against US troops in Iraq."

Fadlallah is not a "Hizballah leader", though he did once serve as a "spiritual guide" to the group in the 1980s, when Hizbullah was still a motley collection of gangs, before an Iranian-imposed reorganization later in the decade. Not only does Fadlallah have no place in the party hierarchy, he has had deep differences with the party in recent years, both for political and doctrinal reasons. Fadlallah, like many Najafi clerics, is opposed to the Wilayat al-Fakih, or "Guardianship of the Jurisconsult", concept which Khomeini advanced to combine clerical and political power in the same ruler. Hizbullah is not, and has hitched its wagon to Khomeini's successor, Ali Khamenei.

Fadlallah and Hizbullah are also potential competitors if they decide to appeal to the large new Shiite "electorate" in Iraq, though their approaches are very different. Fadlallah is an erudite cleric, having been the representative in Lebanon of the late Grand Ayatollah al-Kho'i, and his authority is based on his learning. As a Najafi, he also has an advantage over Hizbullah, which does not seem to have established any real network in Iraq. Hizbullah, in contrast, has little strictly religious legitimacy, being seen much more as a successful political organization.

There is also a generation gap: Fadlallah is getting on in years and his health has been uncertain, according to reports. Hizbullah's leaders, in contrast, are young and on the upswing. To put Fadlallah and Hizbullah in the same basket is a mistake, even if they might have parallel interests when it comes to challenging American power in Iraq.

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