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  Updated: August 7, 2006

Writerís view is personal, must not be considered editorís

The Bush, Ba'athist, Bin Laden joint decree:†make war on the Shia

By: Rannie Amiri

This motley trio has more in common with each other than any individually would dare to admit. The cozy relationship of the Bushs' with the Bin Ladens' is well known, as is the sordid history of United State's support for the tyrannical Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein. Recently, however, all three have united under a common banner: to end the growing influence of Shia Muslims in the Middle East. This has always been the case with Iran. Even more pressingly now in Iraq. Currently in Lebanon. But a call to arms, unmistakably, has been issued.
It is by no coincidence that the countries which have piqued the ire of the US over the past several weeks/months/years - Iran, Iraq, Lebanon - all happen to involve the rise of Shia Muslims to power (or greater power) and the subsequent determination of George Bush, Ba'athist elements, and Bin Laden (used here as being broadly representative of al-Qaeda) to see this not come to pass.
The ideologies driving them vastly differ. The Wahabi/Salafi school which bred Bin Laden, Zawahiri and the erstwhile Zarqawi stems from an extremist interpretation of Islam, holding Shia Muslims as "apostates" for the special reverence accorded to the family of the Prophet Muhammad. Seen as heresy, it makes them legitimate targets for righteous retribution. The slaughter of the ethnic Hazara Shia minority of Afghanistan by the Taliban is a gruesome testament to this.
The Ba'athists, specifically those in Iraq, are the polar opposite: pure secular Arab nationalists. They regard the Shia Iraqi Arabs as a fifth column due to affiliation with co-religionists in Iran, a majority Shia but non-Arab state considered historically hostile to the greater Arab nation. Indeed, a favorite slogan of the Ba'ath was the disparaging pronouncement of Shia, Shiou'ie, Shu'ubi or "Shia, Communist, and [roughly translated], 'one who rejects his Arabism'."
George Bush Sr. had amicable relations with both of the aforementioned during his long tenure.  As CIA director, vice-president and president, he armed the likes of Bin Laden and his mujahideen during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and bankrolled Saddam's chemical wars before they parted ways. But it is now the neo-conservative "Likudist" school which holds great sway over Bush the junior, espousing an "Israel-first" foreign policy.
Those are the players. So what of their playground?
Iran, although spuriously implicated in the troubles engulfing Iraq and Lebanon, has most prominently come under scrutiny for development of an alleged nuclear weapons program. As of yet, no evidence of bomb-making has been found. 
Should Iran pursue a nuclear weapons program though, many would contend this to be an appropriate check on the Israeli nuclear arsenal, not to mention that held by an unstable regime in Pakistan which may fall into the unfriendly hands of the Taliban or their al-Qaeda cohorts (unlike Iran, both Israel and Pakistan are non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Some are left to lamentably conclude that the only way to curtail Israeli military adventurism would be an Iranian nuclear deterrent. It was Seymour Hersh, writing in the April 2006 issue of The New Yorker, who exposed the Bush administration's apparent willingness to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran without forsaking the use of nuclear weapons in doing so. The neo-cons thus seem keen to assure the balance of power in the Middle East remains unbalanced, even if it means starting another regional war.
In Iraq, the situation is more dynamic. An historical shift took place after the fall of Saddam. The minority Sunni Arab population, which has dominated Iraqi politics since the Ottoman period, no longer ruled over the majority Shia Arabs. This was not an insignificant occurrence.
For decades, the Shia of Iraq have been marginalized, persecuted and at various times, massacred wholesale by the Ba'ath regime of Saddam. It is far beyond the scope of this essay to detail all the crimes perpetrated against them. Among the most notorious was the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of Shia Muslim civilians during the 1991 uprising (which those in power now in Iraq are unlikely to forget) while the Arabs and US watched shamefully on the sidelines.
The war started by Saddam against Iran, purportedly to stem the influence of the Iranian revolution, was a prime example of skillful pandering to both Arab fears and nationalism through use of anti-Iranian, and by implication, anti-Shia propaganda. This is important to recognize because it remains a recurrent theme in today's Lebanon and Iraq as the driving force behind the Sunni-led insurgency there.
To even the nonchalant observer, it is unequivocally clear that the overwhelming majority of civilian death and carnage in Iraq has been at the expense of the Shia community. Countless mosques, marketplaces, and funerals have been targeted, with the most heinous on the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf killing Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim in August 2003 and the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. These events belie the almost daily killing of scores upon scores of civilians and the ethnic cleansing of entire neighborhoods in Baghdad's ever widening circle of sectarian violence. It was Saddam who shrewdly sewed the seeds of such discontent long ago.
Finally, Lebanon. Its current devastation has found great applause beyond the neo-conservative and Israeli-apologist crowd. The green light given to the Israelis to attempt to annihilate the Shia group Hezbollah under the pretense of rescuing two captured soldiers came not only from Washington, but from Cairo, Amman, and Riyadh. It is understood that Hezbollah can rightly claim to be the only organization to have legitimately resisted and emerged victorious against the lauded Israeli military by expelling them from southern Lebanon in 2000 - hence the neo-con's support for the present disproportionate violence. But Arab countries wary of Hezbollah's widening appeal are also implicated and typified by their passive reaction to Israel's assault.
The mass demonstrations present in many Arab capitals and groundswell of popular support for Hezbollah has now forced many of these same country's leaders to do some hasty backtracking, especially after the second Qana massacre. Even Ayman al-Zahawiri, whose animosity toward the Shia is no secret, has tried to capitalize by opportunistically aligning himself with Hezbollah, although there has never been a relationship between the otherwise inimical groups.
The recent comments by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak questioning the loyalty of the Arab Shia to their countries as well as the fears expressed by Jordan's King Abdullah on the formation of a "Shia crescent" in the Middle East were telling. Within a six-month period, though, it was actually Sunni Muslim extremist suicide bombers who struck hotels in Amman, and a similar group of Salafi radicals who hit the Egyptian resort of Dahab. Also, the ability of the Saudi royal family to remain on their thrones appears increasingly precarious as al-Qaeda's purview within the Kingdom grows. 
So why are they so concerned with a group that has done them little harm?  What leads them to tacitly condone, if not support, the Iraqi insurgency, the invasion of Lebanon, not to mention the mutually destructive Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s?
It is a combination of underlying historic prejudice, protecting spheres of influence, and allowing nothing to jeopardize a lifelong reign of monarchs and dictators.
While seeing the Shia come to power in Iraq, albeit in a feckless and feeble manner, under no circumstance do they wish to see Hezbollah continue to gain in popularity on the Arab street. Nor do they wish to see a country like Iran become the region's new power-broker should they join the nuclear club. Two Shia flanks, one in the east and the other in the west, threaten the notion of Sunni Arab supremacy of the Middle East, the preservation of Arab regimes acting as yes-men for the US, and al-Qaeda's ability to convince the masses that a return to the life of centuries past is the solution.
All three have come to a consensus.
A war on the Shia it must be.
Rannie Amiri is an independent observer, commentator, and exponent of issues dealing with the Arab and Islamic worlds.

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