April 19, 2007


Government should be the only party with weapons, says Sistani (Saadon al-Jaberi, April 19, 2007, Azzaman)

Grand Aytollah Ali Sistani has forbidden the killing of Muslims in Iraq and has urged the government to disarm all militia groups in the country.

Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, made the call in a meeting which grouped both Muslim Shiite and Sunni clergy from the provinces of Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Tikreet, Ramadi, Kirkuk and the Kurdish region.

The visit was to explore ways of ending the current sectarian strife in the country and methods to bring about national reconciliation.

“We have come to visit (Sistani) to back the project of national reconciliation … Sistani has forbidden the shedding of blood of all Muslims and reiterated the necessity of the state being the sole possessor of arms in Iraq,” said Sheikh Mohammed Talabani, a Sunni cleric and head of the delegation.

Sadr's Rising Star To Eclipse Bush's Surge? (Dilip Hiro, April 17, 2007, TomPaine)
Though in his early thirties and only a hojatalislam ("proof of Islam")—one rank below an ayatollah in the Shiite religious hierarchy—Muqtada al-Sadr has pursued a political strategy no other Iraqi politician can match.

The sources of his ever-expanding appeal are: his pedigree, his fierce nationalism, his shrewd sense of when to confront the occupying power and when to lie low, and his adherence to the hierarchical order of the Shiite sect, topped by a grand ayatollah—at present 73-year-old Ali Sistani—whose opinion or decree must be accepted by all those below him. (For his part, Sistani does not criticize any Shiite leader.)

Muqtada's father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and two elder brothers were assassinated outside a mosque in Najaf in February 1999 by the henchmen of President Saddam Hussein. The Grand Ayatollah had defied Saddam by issuing a religious decree calling on Shiites to attend Friday prayers in mosques. The Iraqi dictator, paranoid about large Shiite gatherings, feared these would suddenly turn violently anti-regime.

Muqtada then went underground—just as he did recently in the face of the Bush administration's "surge" plan—resurfacing only after the Baathist regime fell in April 2003; and Saddam City, the vast slum of Baghdad, with nearly 2 million Shiite residents, was renamed Sadr City. As the surviving son of the martyred family of a grand ayatollah, Muqtada was lauded by most Shiites.

While welcoming the demise of the Baathist regime, Sadr consistently opposed the continuing occupation of his country by Anglo-American forces. When Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq, banned his magazine Al Hawza al Natiqa ("The Vocal Seminary") in April 2004 and American soldiers fired on his followers protesting peacefully against the publication's closure, Sadr called for "armed resistance" to the occupiers.

Uprisings spread from Sadr City to the southern Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Karbala as well as four other cities to the south. More than 540 civilians died in the resulting battles and skirmishes. Since the American forces were then also battling Sunni insurgents in Falluja, Bremer let the ban on the magazine lapse and dropped his plan to arrest Sadr.

Later, Sadr fell in line with the wishes of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to see all Shiite religious groups gather under one umbrella to contest the upcoming parliamentary election. His faction allied with two other Shiite religious parties—the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Al Daawa al Islamiya (the Islamic Call)—to form the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

By so doing, in the face of American hostility, Sadr gave protective political cover to his faction and its armed wing, called the Mahdi Army. (U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington have long viewed Sadr and his militia as the greatest threat to American interests in Iraq.) Of the 38 ministers in Maliki's cabinet, six belong to the Sadrist group.

When the Pentagon mounted its latest security plan for Baghdad on February 13—aiming to crush both the Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias—Sadr considered discretion the better part of valor. He ordered his Mahdi militiamen to get off the streets and hide their weapons. For the moment, they were not to resist American forays into Shiite neighborhoods. He then went incommunicado.

Muqtada's decision to avoid bloodshed won plaudits not only from Iraqi politicians but also, discreetly, from Sistani, who decries violence, and whose commitment to bringing about the end of the foreign occupation of Iraq is as strong as Sadr's—albeit not as vocal.

Chalabi Worried About Bringing Back Baathists (ELI LAKE, April 19, 2007, NY Sun)
Mr. Chalabi told The New York Sun that the draft American proposal would cause an "uproar." He made his remarks during an interview at his summer estate in Baghdad's Hurriya neighborhood, under the shade of recently built guard towers and some of the city's tallest date palms.

"It would have guaranteed positions for the Fedayeen Saddam," Mr. Chalabi said, referring to the militia that fought American troops when Iraq's army splintered and that formed the original insurgency with al Qaeda.

"The fourth article of this proposal says under this new law, all members of Saddam's security services, special republican guards, general security service, Fedayeen Saddam will be entitled to the equivalent positions in the new government," he said.

De-Baathification remains a thorny issue for Shiite lawmakers, not to mention the leading Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who have resisted earlier pressure from the minority Sunni politicians to remove restrictions that bar the highest level Baathists from resuming their posts in the new government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2007 7:18 PM

Sadr is still hiding in Iran, his calls for mass protests are weakening, and his call for his ministers to leave the govt are being met with shrugs. Sadr will make 1 or 2 more last ditch efforts to be relevant which will either fall on deaf ears or result in him getting removed.

Posted by: AWW at April 19, 2007 8:46 PM

We're hiding him in Iran. we''ll bring him back after the surge leaves Baghdad proper.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2007 11:18 PM

AWW: That looks correct to me.

Grand Aytollah Ali Sistani has forbidden the killing of Muslims in Iraq

I'd feel better about this guy if it didn't sound like he was leaving the door open to kill non-Muslims.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 20, 2007 1:50 PM