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4/30/03 - IRAQ’S SHIITES AND DEMOCRACY - 2003-05-01

With the fall of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Iraqis have been able to express their genuine religious and political beliefs for the first time in more than three decades.

International media have shown images of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites celebrating previously banned religious holidays and participating in political demonstrations. Some demonstrators have voiced opposition to the presence of U.S. and other coalition forces in Iraq, while others have called for the establishment of an Iranian-style theocracy in the country.

Many observers say that a majority of Iraq’s Shiites do not want a clerical dictatorship. Here is U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher:

"There are other Shi'a groups that are advocating a different kind of democracy. There are Shi'a groups who are basically secular. There are other people who are Shi'a by religion but don't believe that religion and politics should be mixed together. There are a great many groups within the Shia community of Iraq."

Some of Iraq’s most prominent Shiite leaders publicly reject the establishment of a theocracy. One ayatollah has publicly objected to the interference of clerics in politics. Another described a preference for the kind of democracy in which people can choose on their own, without the opinions being imposed on them and contrasted this with the regime in Iran, where the so-called “supreme leader” is not chosen by a popular vote.

Only a democratic form of government can truly represent the full spectrum of religious and political views within Iraq’s Shiite community and across the country.