The idea of a 'Shia Crescent' rising over the Sunni Arab world is not new.
The term gained wide spread use after King of Jordan, Abdullah II, sparked fears that Iran is getting too powerful to handle. Arabs were already beginning to witness how Shiites were influencing events in Middle East.
In March 2003, United States invaded Iraq. Arabs leaders remained silent. They were hoping that U.S. would installed an Arab Sunni as the ruler in Baghdad. U.S. Administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, began his efforts to place a U.S. puppet in power in Iraq. He did not succeed.
The real question is why did U.S. fail in this task that it so easily achieved in Arab capitals, including Baghdad itself in 1979 with the installment of Saddam.
In January 2004, top Shiite cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, dashed Arabs leader's hopes of a fellow puppet in Baghdad. The Shiite spiritual leader demanded "free elections" in Iraq in which its people would chose their own leaders. Arab world urged President Bush to quash Shiite aspirations of an "Iranian state" in Iraq. President Bush obliged. U.S. military was given orders to confront Shiite power in Iraq. There were two major battles. American Marines clashed with the Mehdi Army twice in April and August 2004. World's only Super Power had vowed to "destroy the Mehdi Army". U.S. did not succeed against the Shia resistance. Congress admitted that U.S. forces were "not winning" in Iraq. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave up on the idea of a "secular Iraq".
The Shiite militas in Iraq was led by reletavely unknown cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. After two face offs with the U.S. military, Al Sadr proved the strength of his fighters. America realised once again that it was still fultile to fight the Iranians. U.S. gave up attempts to crush the Shiites. President Bush finally conceded to hold free and open elections in accordance with Ayatollah Al Sistani's demands. Arab world was shocked. They now saw the "rise of Shia power" in Iraq. King Abdullah of Jordan feared the spread of Islamic Revolution from Iran to Iraq. The Sunnis were terrified that the "Shia Crescent" was on the rise. In late 2005, Arabs placed their bets on the power of Israel. They hoped that Israel's military would unleash its might against the rising crescent of Tehran. U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said there will now be a "new Middle East".
In Januray 2006, Iranians sensed that West was planning something big against them. But they said they were prepared. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad couldn't wait: "Its going to be a long summer."
The 33 day Lebanon war began on 12 July 2006. But it did not end as Arab governments had wanted. Their worst fears were realised. On 14 August 2006, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared "Divine Strategic Victory" over Israel. Hezbollah said that there will be a new Middle East but "not as Rice intended". The rest is history. The new moon was now clearly on the horizon. To the horror of Arab leaders, American and Israeli power was declining in the Middle East. Arab rulers felt exposed. A Shia Crescent was waxing their centres of power.
Major newspapers and television networks reported early warnings issued by Arab leaders against the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East. [HN - July 2010 ]
[ King Abdullah II of Jordan, speaks of his fears of a Shia Crescent on the rise.]
The Washington Post - 8 December 2004
IRAQ, JORDAN SEE THREAT TO ELECTION FROM IRAN
Leaders Warn Against Forming Religious State
By Robin Wright and Peter Baker
The leaders of Iraq and Jordan warned yesterday that Iran is trying to influence the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30 to create an Islamic government that would dramatically shift the geopolitical balance between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East.
Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar charged that Iran is coaching candidates and political parties sympathetic to Tehran and pouring "huge amounts of money" into the campaign to produce a Shiite-dominated government similar to Iran's.
Jordanian King Abdullah said that more than 1 million Iranians have crossed the 910-mile border into Iraq, many to vote in the election -- with the encouragement of the Iranian government. "I'm sure there's a lot of people, a lot of Iranians in there that will be used as part of the polls to influence the outcome," he said in an interview.
The king also charged that Iranians are paying salaries and providing welfare to unemployed Iraqis to build pro-Iranian public sentiment. Some Iranians, he added, have been trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and are members of militias that could fuel trouble in Iraq after the election.
"It is in Iran's vested interest to have an Islamic republic of Iraq . . . and therefore the involvement you're getting by the Iranians is to achieve a government that is very pro-Iran," Abdullah said.
If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government, he said, a new "crescent" of dominant Shiite movements or governments stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon could emerge, alter the traditional balance of power between the two main Islamic sects and pose new challenges to U.S. interests and allies.
"If Iraq goes Islamic republic, then, yes, we've opened ourselves to a whole set of new problems that will not be limited to the borders of Iraq. I'm looking at the glass half-full, and let's hope that's not the case. But strategic planners around the world have got to be aware that is a possibility," Abdullah added.
Iran and Iraq have Shiite majorities. But modern Iraq, formed after World War I, has been ruled by its Sunni minority. Syria is ruled by the minority Allawites, an offshoot of Shiism. Shiites are the largest of 17 recognized sects in Lebanon, and Hezbollah is a major Shiite political party, with the only active militia.
Abdullah, a prominent Sunni leader, said the creation of a new Shiite crescent would particularly destabilize Gulf countries with Shiite populations. "Even Saudi Arabia is not immune from this. It would be a major problem. And then that would propel the possibility of a Shiite-Sunni conflict even more, as you're taking it out of the borders of Iraq," the king said.
Iran has bonds with Iraq through their Shiite populations. Thousands of Iranians make pilgrimages to the holiest Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala. Iraq's most prominent Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is Iranian-born and speaks Arabic with a Persian accent. Yet Iran and Iraq fought a brutal eight-year war with more than a million casualties.
Iran has faced charges in the past of meddling in Iraq, but with the election approaching, Iraqi, U.S. and Arab officials have begun to make specific accusations and issue warnings about the potential impact.
"Unfortunately, time is proving, and the situation is proving, beyond any doubt that Iran has very obvious interference in our business -- a lot of money, a lot of intelligence activities and almost interfering daily in business and many [provincial] governates, especially in the southeast side of Iraq," Yawar said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters.
The interim Iraqi president, a Sunni leader from a tribe with Sunnis and Shiites, said Iraq's first democratic government must reject pressure to inject religion into politics. "We cannot have a sectarian or religious government," he said. "We really will not accept a religious state in Iraq. We haven't seen a model that succeeded."
The question of Iraq's political orientation -- secular or religious -- will come to a head when Iraq begins writing a new constitution next spring. Jordan's king said he had started to raise a "red flag" about the dangers of mixing church and state.
Abdullah said the United States had communicated its concern to Iran through third parties, although he predicted a showdown. "There's going to be some sort of clash at one point or another," he said. "We hope it's just a clash of words and politics and not a clash of civilizations or peoples on the ground. We will know a bit better how it will play out after the [Iraqi] election."
In Baghdad, interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih warned neighboring governments that Iraq is losing patience with them for not doing more to stop the insurgency, which undermines the prospects for peaceful elections.
"There is evidence indicating that some groups in some neighboring countries are playing a direct role in the killing of the Iraqi people, and such a thing is not acceptable to us," Salih said. "We have reached a stage in which, if we do not see a real response from those countries, then we are obliged to take a decisive stance."
Violence continues to generate skepticism about whether legitimate elections can be held in two months. After talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "cannot imagine" how elections can go forward.
But after meeting with President Bush on Monday, Yawar and Abdullah said they are committed to pressing fellow Sunnis to drop threats to boycott the elections and move quickly to register candidates.
The Jordanian monarch said sitting out the election would only hurt Sunnis. "My advice to the Sunnis in Iraq, and that I will make public, is to get engaged, get into the system and do the best that you can come January 30," he said. "If you don't and you lose out, then you only have yourselves to blame."
The Iraqi president said there is no point in delaying elections, as Sunni leaders have urged. "Extending the election date will just prolong our agony," he said. He predicted Sunnis will ultimately participate, adding that many of the same leaders agitating against the Jan. 30 date have begun preparing their own campaigns.
Yawar said he is putting together a balanced, "all-Iraqi list" of candidates that would cross sectarian lines, in apparent contrast to the Shiite-dominated candidate slate.
A civil engineer educated at George Washington University, he expressed hope that U.S. troops could begin withdrawing from Iraq by the end of 2005 if Iraqi authorities train enough of their own troops.
"When we have our security forces qualified and capable of taking the job, then we will start seeing the beginning of decreasing forces, and that's in hopefully a year's time," he said. But he would not indicate when he hoped the last U.S. soldiers would leave. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters this week he expected the U.S. military to withdraw within four years.
[ Jordan affraid of Iran ]
The Washington Post - November 17, 2006
JORDAN FEARS GROWING SHIITE INFLUENCE
BAQAA CAMP, Jordan.
A new wave of admiration for Hezbollah and an influx of thousands of Iraqi Shiite refugees has caused fears this staunch U.S. ally could face growing Shiite - and perhaps Iranian - influence.
Sunni Muslim clerics and Jordanian officials have expressed worry that support for Hezbollah _ high since the Shiite group's war with Israel _ could encourage Jordanians, who are overwhelmingly Sunni, to convert to the Shiite branch of Islam.
The officials worry that could boost support for Iran, whose influence is considered a threat to Sunni-dominated governments like Jordan's throughout the Middle East. Such fears have existed in Jordan ever since the war in neighboring Iraq took a sectarian slant, with Sunnis and Shiites engaged in reprisal killings that some say veer toward outright civil war.
In 2004, Jordan's King Abdullah II warned that Iran was seeking to establish "a Shiite crescent" including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Since the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting in Lebanon, he has noted that many in the Arab world now consider the guerrillas as heroes.
The fears have become more widespread _ and sharper _ in recent months, with the influx of some 800,000 Iraqi refugees since the war began, even though they include a large proportion of Sunnis.
Last month, the government deported some Iraqi Shiites, apparently for practicing self-flagellation rituals at a Shiite shrine outside Amman. Jordan permits Shiites to worship but not to whip themselves and shed blood, as occurs in some ceremonies.
Jordanian authorities have also rejected requests from Iraqi residents to establish a Shiite mosque, according to two security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivities. The officials said Jordanian security suspected the mosque would become a center for spreading Shiite theology.
Since the Israeli-Hezbollah war, newspaper reports have circulated in the Middle East that a growing number of Sunnis have become Shiites as an expression of support for Hezbollah. The reports have been impossible to substantiate, but the worry among security officials and clerics reflects the deep distrust among Sunni leaders over Shiite intentions.
A Sunni researcher in Amman said he believes there have been dozens of Sunni converts to the Shiite sect, but he had no precise figure. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Some Sunni clerics say the lack of evidence could be due to "taqiyya," an Islamic doctrine used by Shiites to conceal their faith when under threat. One Sunni cleric here insisted, without proof, that Iran has a secret plan to use Shiite conversions to infiltrate Arab societies and cause trouble.
He contended that about half the estimated 800,000 Iraqis who had fled their country for Jordan are Shiites and could be used by the Iranians as missionaries. He also spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is so sensitive.
For a Sunni to convert to the Shiite sect is a simple process. A Sunni can start going to a Shiite mosque and adopt the sect's manner of performing Islamic rites. For a more formal conversion, a Sunni can go to a Shiite cleric and declare his belief that the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali is his rightful heir, which Sunnis do not believe.
The number of Iraqi Shiites who have entered Jordan is impossible to verify since Jordanian officials have not said what percentage of the refugees they believe are Sunni or Shiite.
But any influx of Shiites would hugely inflate their presence in Jordan, since Shiites account for less than 1 percent of the country's population of 6 million. More than 90 percent of Jordanians are Sunnis and the rest Christians.
Public support for Hezbollah in Jordan is high, particularly among the estimated 1.8 million Palestinians who live here. They express admiration for Hezbollah because of the group's military successes against Israel at a time when Arab governments show little interest in armed confrontation.
Other Hezbollah admirers insist their support for the Shiite guerrillas would never lead them to abandon their Sunni faith.
"There is growing sympathy toward Hezbollah...We sympathize with whoever fights Israel," said Abdul-Wahab al-Nawayseh, 65, a Jordanian Sunni. "But the issue is political and has no sectarian roots."
Mohammed Shafout, 60, of Baqaa, said Palestinians were yearning for someone to stand up to Israel, but contended Jordanian society was too traditional to become fertile ground for Shiite missionaries.
"Shiism is only in the imagination of some people who want to portray it as an Iranian influence," he said.
PHOTOGRAPH: The head of Iraq's influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars Harith al-Dhari, front, is seen in front of his house in Amman, Jordan, Friday, Nov. 17, 2006. Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, issued a warrant on Thursday night, declaring on state television that al-Dhari was wanted for inciting terrorism and violence. Al-Dhari said Friday that the Iraqi government's bid to arrest him was illegal and a reflection of its failure to provide security.