Shia-partier innfører strenge islamistiske regler i Sør-Irak. Klesdrakt kontrolleres, bare religiøs musikk tillates, kvinner skal tildkekkes osv. og den som ikke er religiøs nok kan få problemer. Flere av innbyggerne klager. De er religiøse, men liker ikke diktatur.

Fire sheikher fra sør kom til Reuters for å fortelle hvordan forholdene er blitt. De sier det er frykten som hersker. Folk tør ikke si sin mening. Selv medarbeidere av storayatollah Ali al-Sistani er blitt drept.

«Fear rules the streets now,» said one of the sheikhs. «We cannot speak our minds, people are not allowed to oppose them. They would immediately disappear or get killed. The evidence of that is I am talking about it but cannot use my name.»

The fear is not unfounded — two provincial governors and a police chief were blown up by roadside bombs in August, apparent victims of infighting between the Shi’ite parties for political dominance in the region, source of most of Iraq’s oil wealth.
The sheikhs said the conservative religious attitudes meant only religious music was now allowed to be played in public places and dancing was forbidden, as was drinking alcohol. Women were also harassed for wearing clothing deemed inappropriate.

Photographs of secular political leaders like former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi could not be displayed in shops and other public areas.

Street committees that were set up to protect neighborhoods from al Qaeda attacks were being misused to spy on residents and report infractions to the militias and the police, they said.

«The people of the south are religious, we are believers, but at the same time we like to live our lives and we like freedom,» said one sheikh.

De to partiene Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), tidligere SCIRI, og bevegelsen til Muqtadah al-Sadr dominerer. De har hver sine militser, noe som gjør det farlig å legge seg ut med dem.

Begge har sterke bånd til Iran.

De lokale sheikene føler seg marginalisert.

The growing strength of the parties in the south has weakened some secular tribal leaders and excluded them from power structures, a source of patronage and revenues.

«Some say the Shi’ites are lucky because they are now ruling Iraq, but that is wrong. It is the Islamist Shi’ites who are ruling Iraq. Their victory was a curse for us,» said one sheikh.

Det er misnøye med Irans økende innflytelse. Irakerne misliker innblanding, og Irans innflytelse kan gi et backlash.

SIIC and the Sadrists are seen by the sheikhs as importing a conservative brand of Shi’ism from neighboring Iran, which U.S. officials accuse of arming Shi’ite militias to use as proxies to enforce their influence in the south.

«We are suffering from two occupations — America and Iran. We have told American officials this and we have met some of them, but they are not listening to us,» one sheikh complained.

Some tribes were talking about taking up arms against the Islamist parties, but the tribal leaders said they feared this would unleash a bloodbath that would destabilize the south.