Iraq’s Iranian City

From the September-October 2005 Trumpet Print Edition

While Iraq’s constitutional authority bickered over whether to codify Sharia law as the law of the land, in parts of the country Shiite leaders went about implementing it as the law of the street.

Back in February, the Telegraph reported that a “silent and largely undocumented social revolution has transformed the Shia-dominated south of Iraq into a virtual Islamic state in the two years since the U.S. Army invaded” (February 14).

In July, several news sources confirmed that Basra—Iraq’s main port city and oil production center, and which borders Iran—is dominated by extremist Shiite Muslims and is “steadily being transformed into a mini-theocracy” (New York Times, July 7).

Residents of Basra, once one of the more secular of the Shia cities, “describe the changes as an Iranian-style revolution, hesitant at first but rapidly building momentum” (Telegraph, op. cit.).

Tools for this transformation include instruction in the universities and mosques, and sometimes brutal enforcement. “Religious Shiites do not have to legally enshrine Sharia, or koranic law, to exercise their will. Enforcement of Islamic practices is done on the streets, in the shadows” (New York Times, op. cit.).

Shiite militias, directed by the controlling political parties and working in cooperation with the official security forces, enforce strict Shiite religious rulings involving dress standards, music, alcohol and the like. For instance, through intimidation and violence, within a year the militias have virtually put a stop to women being seen in public without the traditional Islamic head scarf and full-length black robe. These social changes are Iranian, comments one Basra resident. “Basra has really become an Iranian city. I no longer recognize it” (Christian Science Monitor, July 13).

Iran’s fingerprints are everywhere. Posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini are displayed in the streets. The rhetoric is the same also: A poster of Khomeini outside the governor’s office displays the words “All the problems of Islam stem from colonialism and the Great Powers.”

In addition, as the Telegraph reported, Sharia law is now routinely used instead of civil codes in Basra’s courts. Shiite rule has even changed which days constitute the weekend: To avoid including Saturday, which Jews celebrate as a day of rest, the official weekend in this part of the country is now Thursday and Friday.

The Shiite takeover of southern Iraq and the imposition of the strict code of Islamic law have been underway since Saddam Hussein was toppled. Since the Iraqi elections in January this year, however, this process has accelerated with more radical politicians coming to power and the consolidation of Shiite religious rule. Basra’s provincial council is dominated by Shiite politicians (35 out of 41) who are loyal to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (sciri)—a Shiite political party with strong representation in the national government—and to Ayatollah Mohammed Yacoubi, a radical cleric associated with Moqtada al-Sadr, the notorious anti-American cleric supported by Iran. One official in Basra claims that half the Governing Council members have ties to Iran.

Numerous small religious parties—such as God’s Vengeance and Master of Martyrs—have the backing of these major Shiite groups and are suspected of “being agents of the Iranian government” (New York Times, op. cit.). One such party was established in Iran by an Iraqi cleric seeking refuge there during Hussein’s reign.

Despite having differences, politicians composing Basra’s majority Shiite government agree on the future of the city: “Today, our society is changing, becoming more religious,” said its provincial governor. “We must reflect that Basra is becoming a purely Islamic city” (Christian Science Monitor, op. cit.). This, incidentally, is being accomplished at no small price: Iraqi officials estimate that about 1,000 people, mostly Sunnis, have been killed in the city in the past several months (ibid.). Sunnis accuse intelligence agents from Iran of masterminding these killings.

For the strategic southern city of Basra, Gerald Flurry’s statement that Iraq would come under the control of Iran has—for all intents and purposes—become reality.