First Published: 2007-11-24

 
ICG: US should help bridge Iraq’s Shiite divide
 

Report by International Crisis Group advises US not to take sides in Iraq’s Shiite sectarian struggle.

 

Middle East Online

ICG: Shiite unity helps in stabilising Iraq

BAGHDAD - The US should take advantage of its privileged ties with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) to moderate the party’s behaviour and curb its sectarian practices rather than use it as an instrument to confront the Sadrists, said a report by International Crisis Group.

‘Shiite Politics in Iraq: The Role of the Supreme Council’, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, outlined how the competition between its major Shiite movements -- ISCI and Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi army -- would help determine the country’s future.

The US has fully backed ISCI in its rivalry with the Mahdi army, but this is a dangerous policy that will further deepen intra-Shiite divisions and ignores the Sadrists’ stronger mass base, noted the report.

“The class struggle between the Shiite merchant elite represented by ISCI and the Shiite urban underclass represented by the Sadrists is more likely to shape Iraq’s future than the sectarian conflict”, said Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Deputy Middle East Program Director.

The report noted that ISCI’s dual alliance with the US and Iran has limited its support among Iraqis.

The movement has sought to gain respectability by distancing itself from its Tehran patron and professing the importance of Iraqi unity but so far has not managed to shake off its past as an Iran-bred group of exiles with a sectarian agenda enforced by a potent militia, according to the report.

ISCI’s only true challenger remains the Mahdi army, which enjoys broad support among Shiite masses.

In order to make a significant contribution to the country’s rebuilding, the report continued, ISCI should project itself further as a truly Iraqi party that supports the country’s unity in both its public positions and actual policy, abandoning its advocacy of a nine-governorate Shiite super region, which has provoked wide opposition.

The movement should urge its representatives to forsake sectarian rhetoric and remove commanders who have engaged in illegal detentions, torture and death-squad activity, while also supporting total transparency in hiring practices by government institutions, suggested the report.

The report adviced that the US should adopt a more even-handed approach between the two Shiite movements, while pressing ISCI to reform and abandon its sectarian policies.

“The US can help ISCI move away from its controversial past”, said Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director.

“An ISCI fully transformed into a responsible, non-sectarian political party could make a significant contribution to Iraq’s rebuilding,” he added.

 

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