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Noted professor: Constitution could fragment unstable Iraq

Cole: Document guarantees more guerilla warfare

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Oct. 17, 2005 

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Juan Cole, a nationally-recognized scholar and commentator on the Middle East, painted a dismal picture of the future of stability in Iraq to about 75 people Sunday night in the Whittenberger Auditorium.

He told the crowd that the Iraqi constitution, which looked to be ratified as of Sunday night, according to The Associated Press, would only further fragment Iraq.

Cole pointed to a provision in the constitution which allowed provinces to create confederations to dilute the power of the federal government in Baghdad as potentially problematic. But he found the rejection of the constitution by most Sunni Arabs in the country to be most troubling.

"It is a guarantee of ongoing guerilla war," Cole said in an interview Sunday.

Cole, a professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of the popular blog "Informed Comment," came to IU to deliver the annual Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Wadie Jwaideh Memorial Lecture at the request of his longtime friend, NELC department chair John Walbridge. In the speech, titled, "Roots of Shiite Power in Iraq," Cole focused on history and influence of Shiite parities and politicians in Iraq, particularly Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Cole said Sistani, who survived the Saddam Hussein era by staying out of politics, emerged as a political player in the country after the U.S. invasion. Sistani played a major role in both crafting the Iraqi election and drafting the constitution.

Both times his recommendations have resulted in increased influence for the Shiite population.

Cole noted that much of Sistani's rhetoric in dealing the U.S.-appointed interim governor of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, was based on the work of the man Cole wryly called "Grand Ayatollah Jean-Jacques Rousseau." Sistani's views are influenced by his readings on western political thought and his trust the of Iraqi people to govern themselves, Cole said.

Throughout the lecture, Cole pointed out numerous occasions in the U.S. occupation of Iraq where he said the U.S. government was ignorant of the history and influence of Shia Islam in the country. One of the largest cemeteries in the world is in the city of Najaf, Iraq, near of the shrine of Husain, an important figure in Shia Islam. Roughly 2 million Shiites have been buried near the holy site. At some point over the course of the armed struggles in the city, the U.S. bombed the cemetery, Cole said.

Walbrdige, who met Cole in the 1970s in Beirut, Lebanon, when they were both studying there, said he realized Cole's influence in the world of Middle Eastern scholarship and commentary at his own wedding.

"My father, sister and brother-in-law spent time with Jaun and paid no attention to the bride and groom," he said.

Freshman Abdulhakim Mermer was one of only a couple undergraduates in attendance.

"I think he presented only one part of the issue in Iraq," he said. "But he presented it very well."

 

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