As well as all this, many of the reasons that have caused Shi'a in
the Arab world to turn to political Islam would disappear if the
Shi'a had their own state. The Shi'a in Iraq have embraced political
Islam largely because the system has excluded them from power and
shunned their communal role and identity. With their own state, Shi'a
elites would have outlets for their ambitions, and the Shi'a would
have a state and symbols with which they could more readily identify.
A likely result of a separate Iraqi Shi'a state would be the eventual
emergence of Najaf and Karbala as rival theological centers to Tehran
and Qom. Saddam Hussein's efforts to keep the Shi'a passive led him
to murder and repress their leadership, culminating in his 1980
execution of the highly respected Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr. Freed from
repression, Najaf and Karbala would flourish again and would serve to
weaken Iran's current ideological monopoly and to "balance" Iran's
ideological appeal more effectively than any military measures.
In any case, a military threat is limited as long as the United
States remains committed to resisting hegemony in the Persian Gulf.
On a yearly basis, Iran spends about 3 percent of what the United
States spends on defense, a fact that makes America's relative
meekness in dealing with Iran hard to understand. Since Desert Storm,
Washington has signed access agreements with Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar,
and the United Arab Emirates (UAE); it has also greatly expanded its
prepositioning in Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon's creation of the Fifth