Clerics in the time of Tishreen: The evolution of religion-civil society relations in post-2003 Iraq

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a seismic shift in clerical-state relations. For decades, the Shia religious establishment had a contentious relationship with the Iraqi state, who feared their mobilization capacity and persecuted them as a result. After 2003, the Shia religious leadership played a powerful role in political affairs, guiding the country towards a constitutional referendum, earlier-than-planned elections, and intervening in critical moments to stem the flow of violence and to uphold order and stability. An onslaught of Shia Islamist parties seized control of the country through popular elections where the majority Shia population rewarded them for their opposition against Saddam Hussein. As the years drew on, however, these Islamist parties lost the public’s trust and Iraq’s population, and burgeoning civil society began to protest perceived religious control of the state. As the Islamist Parties were punished by civil society, so too were the clerical classes, who rushed to distance themselves from politics to salvage their reputation. How have clerics navigated their position amidst popular protests and an increasingly vocal civil society?