*Al-Hayat for April 18 has an interview with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf. It says that Sistani “affirmed his rejection of any foreign power after the war to which the country had been subjected.” His son Muhammad Rida Sistani conveyed from his father “his rejection of any foreign power that would rule Iraq, emphasizing that he himself would not interfere with the form of the national government that the Iraqi people choose to rule the land.” He said that his father is still in seclusion in Najaf. The son said his father’s conception of religious leadership was that it must soar above factions and parties. He denied that his father had been protected by US troops, saying there were local Shiite youth (i.e. the tribesmen) available for the purpose. He called for unity among all Muslims–Sunni and Shiite-and among all Iraqis. He said he read his father accounts of Shiites attacking Sunni mosques in mixed neighborhoods. Grand Ayatollah Sistani immediately denounced such acts as sinful and said they should be seen against his own framework of love for the Sunnis and giving donations for the building or rebuilding of their mosques. He said the Grand Ayatollah had regretted the loooting of libraries, and had said that “Iraqi is for the Iraqis. They must administer Iraq, and it is not for them to do so under any foreign power.” He ended by saying it had been the custom of the clerics of early last century to go to battle alongside their children against the British occupation. From a quietist such as Sistani, that last statement is very ominous indeed.
*The US military has discovered a mass grave site with some 1500 bodies near Kirkuk. Since they are unmarked, it is not clear what went on there, but thousands of Kurdish young men were made to disappear by the Saddam regime. This could be only one of many mass grave sites.
*Al-Hayat also ran an extensive denial by Muqtada al-Sadr’s spokesman that he was behind the killing of Abd al-Majid Khu’i and Haydar Rafi`i Kalidar last week. He said Muqtada is in his thirties, not 22 as the press had reported, and that he was surrounded by respected disciples of his father. Muqtada has sought a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Press reports had said that Sadriyun or supporters of Muqtada had threatened Sistani last weekend unless he left Najaf within 48 hours. Muqtada is also said to have called the leadership meeting in Nasiriya a “failure.” He said only 10 of 19 provinces were represented and that the delegates were mainly expatriates out of touch with Iraqi realities. He said he did not expect the US to invite him to future such meetings.