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27 September 2010


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"they're the only ones that will make him an ayatullah"

What is the reasoning for this claim? As far as I know, the Iranians do not have any sole authority to decide who does or does not become an Ayatalllah (regardless of the fact the Al Sadr is nowhere near ready to become one)

As far as I am aware it is the number of followers, the level of knowledge, the numbers that consider you a Marja' and the testimony of students and teachers that raises one to such a level and that can be achieved in Najaf as well as it can be in Qom.

FB Ali

Dr Silverman,

Pakistan's Shia population can only be estimated as no census has been carried out for some time. The estimates vary according to the source.

The CIA World Factbook estimates that the Shia constitute about 20% of the country's total population, thus numbering around 35 million. These are mostly 'Twelver' Shia; the Ismailis are a very small percentage of the total.

Pakistan has the largest numbers of Shia after Iran. India also has a large Shia population.


Were the "neocons" complete morons not to have figured out the different sects of Islam before blundering blindly into Baghdad? Next question, if the neocons didn't figure it out, do the Israelis have a clue as to what's up in the neighborhood?

You always have reasonable information and I really appreciate your calm delivery.

William R. Cumming

Dr. Silverman you post is very helpful to me. So is your conclusion that whatever else has been accomplished by the US intervention Iraqi nationalism of any kind or even a secular nationalism is now totally suborbinate to religious faction? In this case the dominant religious faction-the Shia? Is part of the explanation that many secular nationalsists have departed permanently or temperorarily from Iraq because of the violence and the dominance of the Shia?


Thanks, Dr. Silverman for a cogent treatment. I can only think of the (probably apocryphal) story of a briefing to President Bush, the younger, immediately after 9-11. "Wait a minute," the leader of the Free World is alleged to have said, "you mean there's TWO kinds of Muslims?"

Norbert N, Salamon

woukd like to know what is the Shia in Bahrain?


Adam L Silverman

Brigadier Ali: thanks. I knew I was on a limb; especially, by some quirk, all the Pakistani American Shi'a I know are all Seveners...

Adam L Silverman

And I need to add the standard disclaimer: I'm the Culture and Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College. The views expressed above are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Army War College or the US Army.

Adam L Silverman

Mo: my impression is that Sadr's only chance of achieving the status of ayatullah is through clerics at Qom. If there was a chance of getting it in Najaf he would've stayed in Iraq. My understanding from reading the news reports on this a couple years ago was that the Academy at Qom was willing to take him. My takeaway is that this was a bid by the Iranian leadership to get some control of him and maintain it as long as possible.

Adam L Silverman

Sir: one final thing that's important to keep in mind regarding this situation - there are also Shi'a SOI/members of the Awakening Movement. Where I was stationed south and east of Baghdad we had a fairly good sized number of them. To the north of us in Diyala Province there were a bunch too and the Diyala SOI have a two year long history of clashing with PM Maliki.

Where we were at I remember talking with the younger brother of a fairly young sheikh who had been in the SOI and was now in the Iraqi Army stationed out in Anbar - he was home on leave and is Shi'a. He told me in no uncertain terms that if the Iraqi government turned on the SOI, then he and many others would return home because they were SOI. At another interview up in the northern part of our OE, on one of several meetings with the most powerful SOI leader in the area. He was also Shi'a part of the Musawi tribe - one of the three sayid tribes (direct descendants of Prophet Muhammed through Ali) - and the man who largely ran the area, settled disputes, etc. At this meeting, his first with the battalion commander who was taking over the OE as we were realigning the battlespace, the discussion turned to the recent meeting to explain the transition of SOI to the Iraqi Security Forces. He was very upset and informed us that the Iraqi government wanted to turn his men into "the boy who brings the tea". He made it clear that he and his people had fought side by side with the US, had suffered casualties alongside the US, and that the proposed disposition of the SOI was unacceptable.

These folks are not all Sunni. The tribes are all intermixed, and they are proud and have very left to loose. The battle lines are likely to be much less clear than we would expect if an Awakenings/SOI versus GOI fight breaks out and it will be very, very bloody.


Does anyone have reliable info on the percentage of Shia' in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? Seems I get numbers all over the place.

Thank You.

Phil Giraldi

Adam - While it is true that the major shia parties were supported and nurtured in Iran during the Saddam era, it is a bit of a stretch to refer to them as Iranian clients. They all embrace Iraqi nationalism and have made efforts to distance themselves from Iran politically. It is by no means clear to what extent Iran is able to influence political developments inside Iraq - some influence without a doubt, but the ability to force major policy shifts in Tehran's favor, probably not.

William R. Cumming

Again great post and great comments. Now if I could just understand?

Is the south side of Chicago still ethnically divided?

Patrick Lang

Adam et al

As I have mentioned before, the Iraqi Baath was founded by secular Shia among others. Why would it be surprising that the secular Shia would be among the SOI? pl

David Habakkuk

Adam Silverman,

Thanks for that very interesting account.

One thing that puzzles me. You write that the Twelver minority in Saudi Arabia is 'always under threat because the Wahabbiya is genocidally disposed towards the Shi'a (among others.)'

Although there are different definitions, the central meaning of the term 'genocide' refers to the aspiration to destroy ethnic groups. In the extreme case – as with Hitler – ethnicity is not even linked to culture, but to race: with all Jews held to be inherently irredeemable, simply by virtue of their ancestry.

So 'genocide' is conceptually quite distinct from religious persecution, at least as practised by Christians and Muslims, in that the unbeliever, or deviant believer – the heretic – is characteristically deemed to have the option of choosing the truth.

In practice the distinction can get blurred – the notion of 'limpieza de sangre' in Spain being an instance. But I would curious to know about the precise nature of the intolerance of the Wahabbiya.'

Adam L Silverman

Jackie: My impression is that the neo-Cons and their enablers and fellow travelers had a combination of believing they were (and still are) masters of this universe (the universe being international affairs) coupled with some who were blinded by their ideological drivers to ignore the actual information they knew to be accurate and/or believing that not having a background in the Middle East or Central Asia was something that could be finessed in service of the political philosophy. When all of this is coupled with having to service the funders of the think tanks and institutes that many of these folks were and are affiliated with and we have a mess. That virtually none of them lost their jobs or their influence or their status and visibility just shows how truly bizarre things are.

Adam L Silverman

Mr. Cumming: I think that the dispute over resources, which has begun to heat way up again, divides along Sectarian lines. But to bring in COL Lang's comment about Shi'a support for the Ba'ath, as well as the number of Shi'a that had served in the Army while Saddam was in charge (and full disclosure: I learned this from COL Lang, which is why I was able to close the loop for my BCT on this phenomenon while I was in Iraq), when this is married with the Awakenings with both Sunni and Shi'a components, there is a concept of Iraqi nationalism. The other group that really has played this attitude up are the Sadrists. And from what I was told by Iraqis - both Sunni and Shi'a - and observed while in Iraq and have read since my return this really isn't the case among the diasporan movements that make up the Shi'a Arab majority coalition that is being held over due to a hung parliamentary election and is jockeying for position rather than resolving the problem.

And this goes to the heart of Mr. Giraldi's comment. I've watched PM Maliki talk more and more like an Iraqi nationalist since 2008, but I really think this coupled with the creation of his own special counter-terrorism units and his attempt to create pet tribal councils, is all an attempt to coup proof himself and consolidate his own power. He has tried to transform himself from being a fairly weak PM who was basically installed by the US because (to get back to Jackie's question) the previous Administration didn't understand that Dawa is a Shi'a religious party. They thought they were getting a Shi'a Iyad Allawi - secular, weak, and moderate. I honestly don't believe that his Iraqi nationalist inclinations run very deep - my impression is that its for show. I know that the Kurds, while former recipients of Iranian largesse, are also not nationalists. And all the open source reporting indicates that ISCI and Badr's ties to Iran are still tight. So my take is that Dawa, as long as Maliki is in charge, certainly has its own agenda and ties to Iran. ISCI and Badr folks are still receiving pensions from Iran - and that's a powerful pull. And the Kurds want their own state. So none of these folks are really Iraqi nationalists, and the Shi'a parties currently are clearly within Iran's orbit.

Adam L Silverman

Lysander and Mr. Salomon: I don't have numbers on either of those. You might want to check the World Fact book.

Adam L Silverman

Mr. Habakkuk: it was and inartful use of the term. Wahabbiya asserts that it is the only Islam. All other Sunni Muslims are in various states of apostasy. Shi'a and Sufis are considered not just to be apostates, but to not be Muslims. They are, according to Wahabbiya, dangerous and heretical (and if I recall correctly there have even been assertions that the Shi'a are supposed to be some sort of Jewish plot to lead real Muslims into heresy) and to be killed wherever they are found. Basically a policy of sectarian eliminationism and its the eliminationism component that ties into, if not genocide, than ethno-religicide. One of the best explanations, with great footnotes providing both additional explanatory material and references, is As'ad Abukhalil's "The Battle for Saudi Arabia". Many here would likely disagree with his personal political views (he blogs at AngryArab), but his research is excellent.

Patrick Lang


Wahhabism is the official religion in SA but there are 12er Shia mosques all over the Eastern Province. pl


Adam Silverman, Lysander, & N. Salomon,

I'm a government documents librarian at Rutgers Univ. Law School in Camden, NJ, so as soon as a question of demographics concerning the prevalence of Shia or Sunni in the countries you inquired about, I immediately consulted the CIA's World Factbook.


To my surprise, I discovered that there is apparently no break-out of religious affiliations for Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, merely a general designation of all sects under the rubric of "Muslim", while there is such a breakout for Kuwait. I find it difficult to believe that this information is not carefully compiled and assessed by the CIA; perhaps there is some politically-motivated reason for them to be cagey regarding the dissemination of this information in the generally circulated World Factbook? Wikipedia entries for these countries also vary in whether they address this point or not.

Here is a link to a chart detailing the gross population and percentage of Shia in various Islamic countries:


N.B.: Those who compiled this chart have a considerable axe to grind, as they openly state that by their lights, the Shia are NOT Muslims. So there's that...


Adam: Thank you for your response. Regarding the think tanks, I've always thought AEI was set up as a neo-con full employment racket. Neo-cons remind me of weathermen. They don't have to be right, they just need to stand up and make predictions.

Norbert N, Salamon


Thank you for the info

Stanley Henning

Isn't it fascinating that both the Iraq and Afghanistan situations could have easily been foreseen based on their historical experience. In Iraq, Sunni's in charge and there is ill treatment and discontent, Shiites take over and there is ill treatment and discontent. In Afghanistan, corrupt government at the top and life among extremism/lawlessness below. We are currently witnessing the evolving situation in Iraq. Guess where we are headed in Afghanistan if we don't eliminate all the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and, even then, what is there to prevent a rebirth of extremism gaining control if the government remains corrupt as indications point to?

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