The Future of Islam in Iraq

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They fought a bloody eight-year war between the Iraqis and the Iranians, against that kind of theocracy. And there were a great many people were involved in the political process in Iraq who will seek some kind of balance.


JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, HOST: Well, now that Iraq has democracy, will it lead to a strict Islamic government (search), like the one next door in Iran? At least one top Shiite cleric says Iraq's new constitution should not separate religion and state, like we do in the United States.

My guest is Rick Barton from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And the big question, Rick is: will Iraq's new constitution be based on Islamic law?

RICK BARTON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I suspect that it will be influenced by Islamic law, but not be based on it. There are many different opinions within the community of clerics, even. And I suspect over the next few months that we'll see them voice their differences.

NAPOLITANO: Well, what kind of a government should we expect once the constitution is written? Will there be a president? Will there be a prime minister? Will there be an executive branch? Will there be a judicial branch? Will there be a popularly elected assembly that will actually write the laws?

What do you think it will look like?

BARTON: I think it will have the elements you just described. It will be some combination of an assembly, an executive, obviously a judiciary, as well. The interim assembly will decide all of that over the next few months.

But the clerics have pretty much said that they will be players but not in office. And the elections have pretty much determined that that's going to be the case. One-third of the recently elected assembly members, approximately, will be women.

NAPOLITANO: Now, in America, as we all know from basic high school social studies, we have a Constitution and a Declaration of Independence that embodies Judeo-Christian moral values. Shouldn't we expect that the new Iraqi constitution would have some sort of Islamic values or theory woven into it?

BARTON: I think that will be a guarantee. It will certainly be based very much as ours has been on the Judeo-Christian principles, it will be based on Islamic principles. But very much the way our Christian faith has so many different interpretations, Islamic faith has the same sort of complexity and interpretations.

And one of the things that Ayatollah Sistani, who has really been the most effective, consistent leader and religious leader over this past year and a half has really advocated for a more open society than some people fear when they see Iran next door.

NAPOLITANO: All right.

Now, I think you've described very nicely what he's been saying — and we're looking at him right now. Is he saying what he wants us to hear or is he saying what he wants his followers to hear?

BARTON: He has established himself as quite a thoughtful leader and even though he is known by some people as being the "Iranian" because he was born in Iran, he has shown real independence from the Iranians. He insists on Najaf in Iraq being the center of the Shiite religion, which does not please some people in Iran.

So he has really established himself as credible and authentic to the Iraqi people, which is why he's been influential and why he's been, in some cases, a tough adversary for some of our decisions because, in some cases, he has had a view of what be would be best for the Iraqi people that has not coincided with our official view.

And he's been right in several of those cases.

NAPOLITANO: What would you expect that the Bush administration will do if, forgive me, the unthinkable happens and the new government is strict Islamic, like next door in Iran? And women are not liberated, and people are not free and the clerics are calling all the shots?

BARTON: Well, Iraq's reconstruction will not necessarily depend, but will certainly be enhanced and will benefit from having the United States' support. And if we see that kind of development taking place in Iraq, I would say we would be reluctant allies.

And that will not speed the transformation of the Iraqi society from what has essentially been a 20-year slide under Saddam Hussein, the last 20 years.

NAPOLITANO: What do you think the role of the Kurds will be? Are they going to want sort of a semi-autonomous state, which they've been asking for for many years? Or are they going to be part of the mainstream political culture in the new Iraq?

BARTON: Right now, I think the Kurds are playing a two-track game. They very much want their own little Switzerland in the north of Iraq and they just as soon be independent of the rest of the country. At the same time, the United States has been their most steadfast ally and they have been good allies for the U.S. during this period.

And we have been insisting on their playing a role in a united Iraq. And so they are playing that game with zeal as well. But it's unclear how this is going to play out. The next few weeks we will see a division within the Kurds. They played the national election for the assembly as a united front, but they have two very strong groupings within.

And a third group that's developing that is all about independence, as well.

NAPOLITANO: Before I let you go, Rick — we only have a few seconds left — will we see Prime Minister Allawi in the same job a year from now?

BARTON: I suspect not. I think he will be influential, but I do not think that he will be the Unity candidate for prime minister.

NAPOLITANO: Rick Barton from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you very much.

BARTON: Thank you, my pleasure.

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