Monday, July 9, 2007

Al-Qaeda Issues Ultimatum to Iran

According to an article in al-Jazeera, al-Qaeda in Iraq threatened to wage war against Iran if the country continued to support Iraq's Shi'a community.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq (which is affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq) stated in an audio tape:

We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you.
He further warned Arab countries from doing business with Iran.

The audio tape has not been independently verified. Moreover, the U.S. military previously stated that they killed al-Baghdadi in May. But a scenario of al-Qaeda attacking Iran is by no means far-fetched.

Most historians, at least in the U.S., credit the 1979-1989 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for leading to the creation of al-Qaeda. They claim that Muslims were called to jihad against the "atheist invader," and the U.S. supported these fighters with money and arms.

This may be part of the story of how al-Qaeda was created, but it is not the complete story. The year 1979 also saw the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to Vali Nasr in his book "The Shia Revival," this event was one of the principal steps in the spread of al-Qaeda ideology. But not in the way most Americans might think.

Iran is a predominantly Shi'ite country. They have beliefs that conflict with Sunni interpretations of Islam. For example, they believe that the successors to their Prophet Muhammed should have been members of Muhammed's family, rather than learned individuals chosen by a group of scholars (as was the case). The Shi'a also believe that one day the Twelfth Imam, a descendant of Muhammed and a messiah-like figure, will bring about the end of times. Most Sunnis do not believe in the Twelfth Imam. In addition, the Shi'a build shrines to revered figures in their history, whereas many Sunnis consider such acts a form of idolatry.

Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the new Islamic Republic of Iran, promised to spread the ideology and influence of Shi'a Islam. He succeeded in many places including Iraq, countries around the Persian Gulf, and Lebanon (where his crowning success was the development of Hezbollah).

In response, Saudi Arabia greatly increased it funding for madrasahs, or schools. These institutions promoted Wahabism, an extreme form of Islam that has no tolerance for anyone perceived to defame Sunni traditions. Shi'ites from the beginning were a target of Wahabi wrath.

To counter the rise of Iran and its proxies, Saudi Arabia fully supported the spread of Wahabi militarism. And Wahabi ideology forms the backbone of al-Qaeda.

Since the U.S. intervention, many in the Shi'a community in Iraq, led by individuals such as Muqtada al-Sadr and backed by Iran, have fought against Sunni groups including al-Qaeda in Iraq. Iran has further supported the Iraqi government, which some view as anti-Sunni. So it would not be surprising if in the near future we see al-Qaeda declare an all out war against Iran.