April 9, 2003 will go down in Iraqi history as the day of the fall. Barely two days after the anniversary of the founding of the Ba‘th party, and 21 days after the US-led invasion of Iraq began, the battle Saddam Hussein dubbed the Mother of All Decisive Battles (umm al-hawasim) was over, and the entire material edifice of the Ba‘th regime fell apart. Much to the world’s surprise, the invaders met little resistance, largely limited to a few Republican and Special Republican Guard units, some hard-core Ba‘th members, units from the Iraqi fedayeen loyal to Uday Hussein and volunteer fighters from neighboring Arab countries. Arab fighters interviewed by the Abu Dhabi satellite channel on April 20 grumbled bitterly of being fired upon from behind rather than by the US troops advancing in front of them. The vast majority of Iraqis did not want to defend the Ba‘thist regime, as predicted by the war’s proponents among Iraqi exiles and US policymakers.
But will the Iraqi majority opt for the post-war polity envisaged by the pro-war forces — a secular and democratic Iraq that, presumably, would challenge clerical rule in Iran, strict Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and authoritarianism in Syria? It is too soon to tell, but the nearly immediate rise of popular, institutional and political Islam on the day of the fall, on both sides of the Sunni-Shi‘i communal divide, has already sent out shock waves more alarming than the “shock and awe” phase of the war. The panoramic convergence of roughly three million Shi‘i pilgrims on the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala to commemorate the arba‘in (the 40-day point after the anniversary of his martyrdom) just days after the fall of Baghdad and the scenes of Sunni worshippers hoisting aloft swords and banners as they emerged from Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad displayed the material and symbolic force of popular religion in Iraq. Secular forces seem wanting. Is religiosity, particularly among the Shi‘a, on the rise in a nation that once boasted of its secular fabric?
The rise of popular religiosity has been a common feature in Middle Eastern societies since the Arab defeat in the June 1967 war. This resilience of religious piety was, in certain cases, a portent of the rise of militant Islamism, the corollary of the decline of Nasserism, the core of “Arab socialist” nationalism. In retrospect, the case of Iraq seems to be an aberration. While Islamism was attracting adherents across the Middle East, the secular Ba‘th Party, also professing an ideological admixture of Arab nationalism and socialism, reassumed power in Baghdad 13 months after the June 1967 defeat. Now that the Ba‘th regime and ideology have been totally discredited, will Islamism, in decline elsewhere in the region, step in to fill the void, proving Iraq to be an Arab anomaly once again?
No Unity of Purpose
In the oversimplified image propounded by the media, Iraq is neatly cut into three chunks — the Kurdish north, the Sunni Arab center and the Shi‘i Arab south — each internally unified in the imagination of the instant experts who sprouted like mushrooms to explain Iraq to TV viewers. Those experts, including Bush administration officials, were especially anxious to assure their audience that the oppressed Shi‘i majority was united in its opposition to Saddam Hussein and would welcome the invading forces as liberators. But, as the conspicuous lack of unity among Iraqi Shi‘is after the war has shown, the terms Shi‘i and Shi‘ism cannot and should not be deployed as sociological or political categories. Using these terms to signify a monolithic and compact community imbued with unity of purpose and a one-dimensional political orientation is at best naive. Apart from the goal of removing the Ba‘thist regime, now achieved, the array of formerly exiled groups representing or claiming to represent the Iraqi Shi‘a have little in common. Secular Shi‘is disagree on issues of reconstruction and governance, while Shi‘i religious parties engage in both political and ecclesiastical rivalries. Tensions between exiles and “insiders” who endured the full force of Ba‘thist rule, three wars and international economic sanctions further complicate the picture.
Secular Shi‘i liberals of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), stand for de-Ba‘thification and full liberalization of the polity and economy, including privatization of the oil sector. At the December 2002 congress of the Iraqi opposition in London, the scholar Kanan Makiya, who hails from a Shi‘i family, called for the separation of state and religion in post-war Iraq. But neither liberalism nor secularism is welcome to other Shi‘i-led organizations. Full dismantling of the command economy and removal of oil revenue from state coffers are non-starters for the Iraqi National Accord, led by the former military officer Iyad Allawi, a Shi‘i. Separation of state and religion is a horrible scenario for all strands of Islamists, Shi‘is and Sunnis alike. Exiled to Tehran and London, and now back inside post-war Iraq, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has been the most visible of the Shi‘i Islamist groups working to forestall that scenario. SCIRI’s leader Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim is one of seven former opposition figures tapped by the US to form the core of an eventual Iraqi “interim authority.” However, his assertion upon his return to Najaf on May 12 that “Islam must rule Iraq” seemed at odds with repeated statements from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the US will not allow an Islamic state in the country.
Beginning in 1992, the three main Shi‘i Islamist parties — SCIRI, al-Da‘wa and Munazzamat al-Amal al-Islami — took part one way or another in the US-sponsored INC, led by the Shi‘i liberal businessman Ahmad Chalabi. Progressively alienated by Chalabi’s leadership style, the Islamist groups withdrew from the INC one after the other, but eventually established ties with the US without the mediation of the liberals.
In late 1996, the Tehran-based SCIRI initiated regular contact with the Clinton administration via its bureau in London, headed by Hamid al-Bayati, breaking an old taboo on direct and active engagement with US diplomacy. The election of the reformist President Muhammad Khatami in Iran in May 1997, followed by promulgation of the Iraq Liberation Act by Congress in October 1998, may have encouraged SCIRI in its change of course. Bayati had several photo opportunities with US officials, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and SCIRI soon became part of the expanded spectrum of Iraqi opposition forces that were regularly consulted and hosted by Washington in its quest to revive the moribund INC. SCIRI was named by the State Department as eligible for financial support under the Iraq Liberation Act, and participated in the 1999 Windsor gathering where the INC leadership was expanded and rotated. In the runup to the December 2002 opposition congress held in London, SCIRI was one of six major parties to decide the composition of the delegates. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the second-ranking leader, appeared in Washington for the deliberations of the group of six, though he denounced the war option then consuming world attention.
Through SCIRI’s patronage, Shi‘i delegates from other Islamist groups, such as al-Da‘wa, Munazzamat al-Amal al-Islami and Kawadir al-Da‘wa, and non-political institutions such as Al al-Bayt of Sayyid Muhammad Bahr al-‘Ulum and the rationalist-moderate al-Khoei Foundation were included on the list invited to the London gathering. This was involuntary power sharing — SCIRI could not and cannot claim to be the sole representative of the Shi‘i Islamist groups, let alone the Shi‘i community at large. Al-Da‘wa, for example, officially boycotted the congress, though prominent individuals like the political bureau member Sami al-Askari responded positively to SCIRI’s invitation. Official al-Da‘wa, a member of the leftist-nationalist anti-war alliance, directed strong criticism at SCIRI’s claims to be “the” representative of the Iraqi Shi‘a. Still, in the end SCIRI ensured that approximately 56 percent of the 300 delegates at the London congress were Shi‘is. All of the Islamists had been invited, endorsed or not rejected by SCIRI, which had veto power. SCIRI’s men also held numerical predominance on the Committee of Coordination and Follow-up that emerged from London gathering. Of the 65 members, 33 were Shi‘is. Of the 21 Shi‘i Islamist members of this committee, 17 were either SCIRI members or protégés, while four were moderates with independent status. Only 12 members of the committee were secular liberals and nationalists.
Islamist-minded delegates in London, who were mainly Shi‘i Islamist militants, insisted upon the inclusion of two crucial points in the gathering’s final communiqué: Islam is the religion of the state of Iraq and Islam is “the” source of legislation, rather than “a” source of legislation. The Arabic text of the statement read al-islam masdar al-tashri‘ (“Islam is the source of legislation”), while the English translation replaced the definite with an indefinite article to soften the Islamist connotations. Whether the English translation is a self-deceptive wish will be much debated. The Islamic fervor in the final statement may have been an exchange of favors between the Kurds and SCIRI. In return for full recognition of “federalism,” a crucial Kurdish demand, the Kurds endorsed Islamizing the future constitution. If so, the compromise belies the long-standing aversion in SCIRI to federalism and the equally long-standing secularism of Kurdish nationalists, who are opposed to any assimilation, Islamist or otherwise. Delegates interviewed in December in London criticized this and other behind-the-scenes bargaining which led to the inclusion of ex-Ba‘thists in the 65-man committee. When the names were announced, the Ba‘thist names were booed.
Beyond the London meeting, SCIRI took two further steps to pre-position itself for a leadership role after the regime fell. At the Salahuddin conference of the opposition in February 2003, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of SCIRI was included in a six-man “nucleus” for a post-conflict authority. Zalmay Khalilzad, then special US envoy to “Free Iraqis,” made it clear to the assembled personages that they should stop short of declaring themselves a “government-in-exile,” lest this measure alienate anti-regime forces within Iraq. SCIRI spokesmen were vocal in their denunciations of US plans for a post-war “military administration” with scant Iraqi representation. To lend muscle to its politics, SCIRI deployed units of its armed Badr Brigade from Iran to the town of Suleimaniya in northern Iraq. The size of the contingent is yet unknown; it may well be symbolic, but it indicates SCIRI’s drive to back its political ambitions with a military presence. Its deployment on Kurdish territory signals a gesture of good will and gratitude on the part of Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, toward SCIRI and its patron Iran. These units are poised to take initiatives the moment a power vacuum allows for deployment and activity. SCIRI wishes to win an early foothold, and at press time was still reportedly resisting the US directive to disarm the Badr Brigade.
What political strategy underlies SCIRI’s tactical thinking? For Shi‘i Islamist groups, democracy has a dual meaning — majority rule and the emanation of power and legislation from the people. In their minds, the former translates into “automatic” Shi’i majority government in Iraq, while the latter is the secular antithesis of the “Islamic” polity some groups call for. Corollaries to democracy that the Islamists usually overlook are pluralism, human rights and civil liberties. Given the secular regional role envisaged by the US for Iraq, SCIRI’s choices seem limited. A politics based on Shi‘i majority rule or Iranian-style clerical rule (velayat-e faqih) would trigger Sunni Islamist responses, risk a communal cleavage and threaten secularism. Spokesmen have seemed to climb down from earlier statements. “We have committed ourselves to democracy,” Hamid al-Bayati said on May 25. “Of course I dream of an Islamic state, but we now realize that is not an option.” Perhaps Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and his aides dreamed that SCIRI, upon returning from exile, would be swept into power by the tumultuous welcome of millions, as was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he arrived in Tehran from France in 1979. But SCIRI and other groups in exile seem to have been oblivious to the unpredictable and uncontrollable Shi‘i social forces that would be unleashed by the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Their dream of a triumphal return may have been wishful thinking.
Power of Ritual Unleashed
Within Iraq, Shi‘i Islam has been structured in three distinct spaces: the informal hierarchy of the clerical class, the community-based popular rituals organized by notables and, lastly, the forces of militant Islam. Under the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein, it was impossible to judge the balance of these elements. Barely hours after the fall of Baghdad, however, the first contents of the Pandora’s box that is Iraqi Shi‘ism spilled out. Chest-beating crowds surged in Baghdad on the day of the fall. In the succeeding days and weeks, exiled cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoei was assassinated after his return to Najaf, demonstrators railed against the US presence in Nasiriyya and Baghdad and, answering the call issued by SCIRI from Tehran, millions made the heavily covered pilgrimage to Karbala. The renowned civility and secularism of Iraq’s society seemed, for the moment, a bygone myth.
To foreign observers, the procession of chest-beating Shi‘is in the shantytown of west Baghdad, for years called Saddam City but now renamed Sadr City, seemed a bizarre celebration on the day Saddam Hussein’s statues crashed to the ground. In addition to the fierce chest beating, the Shi‘is held above their heads date palm leaves, green banners and clay tablets — all artifacts of Shi‘i ceremonial ritualism. Chest beating is a coded display of allegiance to Imam Hussein, as well as a display of protest and a physical statement to convey past grievances. In this ritual, pain is a medium of catharsis. It purifies the physical body and releases trapped agonies; it also holds a promise of happiness to come. Green palm leaves symbolize the celebration of life and hysterical ecstasy. The actual palm leaves used by the Baghdad throng were the dry and yellowed fronds which poor Shi‘a store for cooking, but they now assumed a new function. Green banners were the symbol of Imam Ali. His descendants donned green headwear to distinguish themselves as a noble lineage. Clay tablets known as turba are made from the soil of Najaf and used in prayers. The forehead of the worshipper would touch this sacred soil in honor of Najaf, the holy burial place of the first Shi‘i imam.
The crowd on April 9 in Baghdad did not utter even one political slogan. Mute cultural artifacts became a demonstration of identity, a declaration of freedom and a pronouncement of the unutterable. When the crowds finally broke their silence, they chanted evocations of piety: “By God, we swear never to forget Imam Hussein!” and “There is no god but God.”
Macabre Death in Najaf
The tragic death of the prominent Shi‘i cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoei, 42, in Najaf on April 10 was a macabre reminder of a pernicious legacy left by Saddam Hussein — violence and politicized religiosity. Khoei, an optimist and a rationalist, rushed to Najaf the moment it was rid of Ba‘thist forces to save his home town from the potential horrors of the day after. He had discussed these plans with Iraqi dissidents, who encouraged him, and a delegation of Iraqi exiles volunteered to escort Khoei in this perilous journey. US forces helped Khoei to reach Najaf, a fact that was misinterpreted to defame his courageous and constructive initiative. A group of paramilitaries was entrenched inside the shrine of Imam Ali, threatening all manner of unnecessary havoc. Angry mobs were bent on exacting revenge upon pro-government clerical dignitaries. US forces in and around Najaf could not approach the holy shrine, let alone invade it.
A pack of Najafis, presumably directed by a rival cleric named Muqtada al-Sadr, attacked the office of the Custodian of the Shrine of Imam Ali a few minutes before midday prayer. In the office, Khoei was negotiating over the reopening of the shrine, to signal a return to normalcy, with the custodian, Haydar, who hailed from the well-known Rufai‘i family. The Najafi mob entered the shrine and blocked off the office, demanding the surrender of Haydar Rufai‘i, obviously to have him lynched for past cooperation with Ba‘thist rule. In response to pleas for sanity by Khoei, someone in the crowd opened fire, in what Shi‘is would consider an outrageous act of desecration of the tomb of Imam Ali. Ninety minutes passed. The besieged parties raised the Qur’an and white handkerchiefs and surrendered. The prisoners were tied and dragged by the frenzied mob to the house of their leader, the self-appointed clerical authority Muqtada al-Sadr, reported to be as young as 23. The Iraqi journalist Maad Fayyad, an eyewitness and himself a prisoner with Khoei, was whisked out of danger. A moment later, the crowd stabbed their captives to death, mutilated the bodies and dragged the corpses into the streets. This tale of two factions in but one Shi‘i city is a symbolic portent of a new rift in the Shi‘i clerical leadership and community. Although the much feared and predicted Sunni-Shi‘i clash in post-war Iraq has so far proved mythical, so has the monolithic unity of the religious class in Najaf.
The rising force behind the rift in Najaf is the Sadr family, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, a sturdy, bearded young man with a melancholy mien. With an obvious mass following in Najaf, Nasiriyya and the newly dubbed Sadr City, Muqtada’s emergence may have surprised senior members of the clerical leadership in Najaf equally with the outside world. Under house arrest since the assassination of his father and two brothers in 1999, Muqtada has been covertly recognized by his father’s followers as the legitimate “heir.” In the 1990s, his father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, built networks of novices and communities of emulators whom he provided with much-needed social services during the sanctions period. Reinstituting the Friday prayers, a heresy or innovation by the norms of Shi‘i jurisprudence, the father led millions in the weekly devotional. His fiery speeches became a source of solace, comfort and motivation. He was for a homegrown Arab clerical leadership. This preference implies a rivalry with the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who succeeded Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, father of the murdered Abd al-Majid, as head of the Najaf clerical establishment in the 1990s.
Muqtada al-Sadr is seemingly launching a bid for clerical power. The demonstrations presumably staged under his direction, in his name and by his own followers, in Najaf, Nasiriyya and Baghdad in April led some to suggest that he was a new Khomeini striving for political power. But Muqtada is not ideological, and he has no vision of an Islamic state. His loyal following of clerics runs only into the hundreds — too weak to challenge the Ba‘thist regime even at its lowest ebb. The very intellectual legacy of the Sadr family upholds a vision of Shi‘i involvement in politics that is opposed to Khomeini’s “guardianship of the jurisprudent.” Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Muqtada’s uncle, was the theorist of the “third way” between traditional quietism and clerical rule, arguing for a democratic polity with a moderate supervisory role for the clergy in judicial matters. Iraqi Shi‘i Islamists, moderate Islamic dignitaries and charitable institutions are not unified in this regard. Only few advocate Khomeinism — above all, SCIRI.
Thus far, Muqtada aims to assert supreme clerical authority by means of street politics. His mentality may be a competitive response largely shaped by the fact that other Najafi families, like the Hakims, have politicized Shi‘ism and shifted their clerical weight from the nuances of jurisprudence and ecclesiastical excellence to power politics. The Sadr family name also carries political gravitas. The Da‘wa party held up his uncle, executed by the regime in May 1980, as a modern symbol of defiance of authoritarian rule. Upon his assassination in 1999, Muqtada’s father was also elevated to the status of martyrdom. The young Muqtada has simply treated his elders’ standing as a family trust. Muqtada’s weakest point is his attempt to override the clerical norms of seniority, such as knowledge-based rank, scholarly achievement and age. His rivals claim he is 22 years old; his followers assert he is 32. Both are inaccurate. But these conflicting claims signify a war over status. Muqtada al-Sadr has already met formidable challenges.
The clerical class has traditionally been composed of family-based leadership embedded in local solidarity and supra-national networks of emulators and novices. But the 1979 Iranian Revolution caused fractures along ideological lines which increased the complexities of the social organization of the clergy. Muqtada al-Sadr is now adding a new cleavage between “authentic” Iraqis who resisted the regime from within the country, and “alien” Shi‘is from exile. Muqtada’s hostility toward exile figures and institutions brings him into direct conflict with SCIRI, al-Da‘wa and Munazzamat al-Amal al-Islami, targeting, by extension, the families of Hakim and Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi, leader of the Munazzama. By the same token, his line of confrontation against exiles has entangled Muqtada with the influential Khoei Foundation — a formidable, representative institution that enjoys some 80 percent of the worldwide khums (a charitable tax paid annually by devout Shi‘is) — and the Khoei family.
Singlehandedly, Muqtada is waging a war against what he termed as “traditional clerics,” “non-Iraqi” clerics and pro-Ba‘thist clerics, in other words against everyone but himself. After his followers killed the Custodian of Najaf and Abd al-Majid al-Khoei, Muqtada pressured the old ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim into giving allegiance to him. His forces also besieged Sistani’s house in Najaf, but Sistani’s followers rushed from nearby towns to disperse the mob.
In Najaf, as elsewhere, tensions are high between these multiple factions. SCIRI, for example, occupied the offices of the Ba‘th Party in Najaf, this time with Muqtada reportedly entrenched inside the shrine by the end of April. Iraqis crossing the borders from Iran are augmenting the strength of the Shi‘i parties. Iran has also been sending agents and protégés. Here and there, they raise the slogan of Islamic government. In response, the pro-Muqtada groups are shouting, “Yes to the Hawza!” A classical Arabic term that can mean centers of religious learning, the word hawza has a distinctive Najafi connotation referring to the clerical leadership in Najaf. Since a collegiate body of clerical dignitaries resides in the holy city, the term Hawza is politically ambiguous, as used by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Polarization appears to be accelerating. The collegiate body of clerical authority in Najaf issued a joint statement denouncing the individuals and groups who claimed to represent the Hawza by raising banners and slogans in its name. The communiqué also said that “pro-Ba‘th security agents have put on the religious garb and began to give statements before TV cameras, although they hardly speak proper Arabic.” The statement was signed by four grand ayatollahs: Ali Sistani, Muhammad Said al-Hakim, Sheikh Muhammad Ishaq Fayyad and Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi. In London, meanwhile, Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr categorically denounced assassination, a clear reference to his nephew’s probable involvement in Khoei’s death in Najaf.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement is significant, but not all-powerful. It took shape under circumstances of steep rise in popular religiosity, in itself an apolitical phenomenon. The young Sadr’s movement has three disparate, homegrown components: the clerical core, formed mostly of young clergy and novices who were loyal to his father, the charity networks built by his father, and spontaneous armed mobs, which derive much of their momentum from the security vacuum after the fall of the regime. The configuration of these three components may not remain solid. Two factions have already broken away from Muqtada, and further splits may follow.
A fourth component came from outside. Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha’iri, a close aide of Muqtada’s uncle Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, provided the young Sadr with an unlimited “agency authorization” (ijaza), meaning that he can act as the old ayatollah’s deputy in every capacity he deems proper. It turned out that Muqtada’s father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, had recommended to his followers that, should he die, they should consult al-Ha’iri. Therefore the ijaza, in effect, conferred Muhammad Sadiq’s clerical authority upon Muqtada, though this authority remains contingent upon al-Ha’iri’s say-so. Kazim al-Ha’iri fled to Iran in the late 1970s. There he became the jurisprudent of the Da’wa party, but he was later discharged from the party for political and ideological reasons. He turned into a staunch proponent of Khomeinist ideas endorsing clerical rule. Ha’iri lacks the mass movement the young Sadr has at his disposal, and Sadr lacks the grand status of the old ayatollah. They need each other. In addition to his dire need for recognition from senior, high-ranking clerics, or from the powers that be, the young Sadr is also under pressure from the non-ideological heritage of his own family and followers.
The massive displays of Shi‘i religiosity — political, popular and institutional — have startled Iraqi Sunnis, clerics and laymen. There is some sign of a Sunni response. Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, a TV preacher named Ahmad Kubaisi, known for his strong ties with the Ba‘thist regime, was flown into Baghdad from the United Arab Emirates to lead a 10,000-strong demonstration after Friday prayers. Deploying anti-American motifs in his incendiary oratory, Kubaisi cast himself in a patriotic role. Soon he announced the formation of a “Patriotic Front.” Kubaisi praised what he termed Shi‘i anti-Americanism and called for a Sunni-Shi‘i alliance. Muhammad Bahr al-‘Ulum and other Shi‘i dignitaries in London retorted, in editorials and statements published by the Shi‘i weekly al-Mustaqbal on April 30, that this was a trap to alienate them from the US and depict them as troublemakers. A few days later after the formation of the Patriotic Front, the old Muslim Brotherhood, formerly outlawed under Saddam Hussein, announced that it was reforming in Mosul. According to reliable eyewitnesses in Baghdad, Mosul and elsewhere, members of the defeated regime, military commanders, junior officers from the Republican Guard and the security and intelligence services have flocked into units of the Patriotic Front and the Brotherhood, partly to resist change, partly to influence its course and partly to counterbalance Shi‘i militancy. On April 30, in the small, conservative town of Falluja, US troops fired upon a crowd of demonstrators, killing 15. Guerillas, possibly from the Patriotic Front, have subsequently attacked US troops in Falluja and elsewhere.
Religion has worldly roots. It works as antidote to war and death, to crime and prostitution; it is an identity marker, a provider of charities, a source of moral support and a substitute for discredited ideologies. But focus on Islam and Islamism in post-war Iraq may convey a misleading picture, and Iraq is not necessarily a land overwhelmed by tribal chiefs and turbaned clerics. These forces are prominent by default. Secular forces and rational clerics supportive of secular politics are not wanting, but they are seemingly inactive for the moment. What will remain of the religious parties’ street politics if government services are reintroduced to render religious charities and clerical supervision superfluous, or if, in addition, secular, civil associations are rehabilitated? Much will depend on what the US administration will do or be willing to do. While a strong sense of Iraqi nationalism exists, the majority of Iraqi political forces inside and outside the country seem to agree that premature withdrawal of the US-British forces may lead to a power vacuum and civil war. Unless an Iraqi civil administration with solid institutions of power is firmly on the ground, the departure of the occupying soldiers will be impractical. The majority, save the remnants of the defeated regime, shares this pragmatic conclusion. An overstay, on the other hand, would be counterproductive and humiliating. Iraqi nationalism may in the future become a greater force to reckon with.expansive vision for Iraq and the region.