Edict urges Shiites to take bigger role in Iraq

`Fill the power vacuum,' says fatwa issued in Iran

Postwar Iraq

April 26, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A religious edict issued in Iran and distributed to Shiite mullahs in Iraq calls on them "to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities."

The fatwa, issued April 8 by Kadhem al-Husseini al-Haeri, an Iraqi-born cleric based in the Iranian holy city of Qom, suggests that Shiite clerics in Iraq are receiving significant direction from Iran as they attempt to assert the power of Iraq's long oppressed religious majority.

The United States has warned Iran not to meddle in Iraqi affairs, suggesting this week that Iranian agents have crossed into Iraq to destabilize the Shiite population. The possibility of a virulent burst of Shiite religious militancy appears to constitute one of the chief threats to American plans to install an open, democratic system in Iraq.

The edict says that Shiite leaders have to "seize as many positions as possible to impose a fait accompli for any coming government."

The fatwa urged the Shiite clergy to work against American influence in the Shiite community.

"People have to be taught not to collapse morally before the means used by the Great Satan if it stays in Iraq," the fatwa reads. "It will try to spread moral decay, incite lust by allowing easy access to stimulating satellite channels and spread debauchery to weaken people's faith."

The fatwa also instructs his Shiite followers to "raise people's awareness of the Great Satan's plans and of the means to abort them."

"We are in control of all of Iraq, especially central and southern Iraq, not only Baghdad," said Sadeq Abu Jafaar, an aide to Sheik Muhammad Fartousi, the cleric charged by Haeri with the administration of eastern Baghdad. Fartousi has a copy of the edict from Iran.

It is unclear how much control the mullahs really have outside Baghdad and the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Even in Baghdad, their presence is thin and scattered. But the Shiites are by far the most significant group grabbing for power in central and southern Iraq.

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