*Some of you may have seen me on John Gibson’s The Big Story on Fox Cable News at 5:30 pm EST on 4/23. I may be able to get a transcript and will post it if so. Basically, I argued that we should not be sanguine about the way in which Shiite religious militias have been taking over towns and neighborhoods. This control will position them to send their delegates to any provisional government or constitutional convention, and give them enormous influence on the shape of post-Saddam Iraq. I am afraid that the secular-minded Shiites will get locked out of this process because they aren’t the ones with militias and charismatic leaders.
*According to al-Hayat, followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf continue to be worried about his safety. His lieutenant in Kuwait, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Mihri, called on the tribes of the Middle Euphrates to redouble their efforts in providing him security. He worries that after the Karbala commemoration, there is a power vacuum in the holy cities. Sistani is locked in a power struggle with Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sadr Movement, with Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and with other competitors for authority.
*Al-Hayat also ran an interview with Sayyid `Ala Al-Tu’mah that says that Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mudarrisi has been released after much insistent negotiating by Shiite clerical forces. The story had appeared that he and fifty some other Shiite clerics had been detained on Tuesday by forces of the Mujahidin-i Khalq, an Iranian radical organization based in Iraq and opposed to the current Iranian government. Mudarrisi and the others were returning to Iraq from exile in Iran when captured. News services reported that he and the others were then turned over to the US military. He was held for 12 hours. The US has refused to comment on all this. Mudarrisi leads the Islamic Action Organization, which blew up things in Iraq during the 1980s. A lot of these leaders who are returning were in exile because they opposed Saddam with violence. It makes one worried that they will be all to willing to resort to it again if they become displeased with the US.
*Al-Tu`mah also says he will attend the leadership meeting scheduled for Saturday in Baghdad, called for by the earlier meeting at Nasiriya. He is the first Shiite leader I have seen who says he will attend He expressed confidence that SCIRI will be there “after a fashion,” but so far it and other major Shiite groups have been boycotting meetings with American envoy Jay Garner. Al-Tu`mah belongs to the Harakat al-Marja`iyyah al-Risaliyyah (The Movement of the Clerical leader with a Mission–I presume this organization supports Sistani). He said that he had information that the US forces in Najaf had managed to arrest a number of those responsible for the killing of `Abd al-Majid Khu’i on April 10, but declined to identify the perpetrators. If it is true that supporters of Sistani have agreed to come to the Saturday meeting, that is an important development . . .