Sistani Rules that Believers Must Register to Vote
Barzani threatens to Fight for Kirkuk
KarbalaNews.net reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has issued a formal legal ruling requiring believers to register to vote in the voter registration drive set to begin on November 1. The ruling says, “It is incumbent upon all citizens eligible to to vote, both men and women, to register their names correctly in the voter registration lists.” He said that voters are responsible for making sure their names are correctly recorded. He asked his aides to form popular committees in their regions to help citizens to accomplish this task, so that all might be enabled to participate in the elections, “which we hope will be held at the scheduled time, and which we hope will be free and fair.” See also the AP report on this fatwa.
Al-Hayat reports that the weapons collection program in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite slum of east Baghdad, was markedly more successful on Tuesday, with the pace of weapons turn-ins picking up substantially. Militiamen in the ghetto are thereby seeking an end to US attacks on them and their neighborhoods.
The very positive attitude toward the coming elections by Grand Ayatollah Sistani will certainly contribute to what success they have in the majority Shiite areas of the south. To the extent that the less militant leaders of the Sadr movement join in the elections and seek seats in parliament, they may well moderate their views and learn to trade horses. This is all assuming, of course, that guerrilla attacks don’t make the elections impossible or create so low a turnout as to bring their legitimacy into question.
Erich Marquardt of PINR explains Muqtada al-Sadr’s temporary stand-down from confrontation with the US. Excerpt:
‘ Washington has not bowed to al-Sadr’s pressure and has continued to pound his Mehdi Army militia, inflicting on it a high casualty rate. Washington’s persistence in this matter successfully prevented al-Sadr’s movement from spreading to Iraqi Shi’a as a whole. Furthermore, Washington’s continued pressure caused al-Sadr to realize, at least momentarily, that there is only so much he can accomplish from guerrilla attacks against U.S. troops.
This realization is evident by al-Sadr’s willingness to direct his forces to lay down their weapons and let Iraqi and U.S.-led security forces take back control of rebellious areas. Indeed, beginning October 11, Mehdi Army forces handed over medium and heavy arms — such as grenade-launchers, mortars, machine guns and artillery shells — to Iraqi and U.S.-led forces; in exchange for their weapons, they were given money for each item that they relinquished. While it may be impossible to judge the extent of the weapons handover, as long as the Mehdi Army is participating in this endeavor, it is a sign of stability.
However, al-Sadr’s recent decision to resort to diplomacy should not be taken as a sign of weakness. On the contrary, if Washington decision makers wish to stabilize Iraq, they must not underestimate al-Sadr again. His pronouncement to resort to diplomacy actually demonstrates the strength he has acquired by resisting the United States; that al-Sadr is even able to dictate terms means that he is in a much more superior position than he was in the early days of the invasion. ‘
The political process in Iraq still faces potentially severe obstacles. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said in Ankara on Tuesday that the Kurds will fight to protect Kirkuk, especially from any further “Arabization”. In recent decades Saddam had expelled Kurds from the city and installed there large numbers of Arabs. Many of the latter are now fleeing back south, strengthening the Kurdish position in the city. Kirkuk is claimed by Turkmen, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds. Both Turkmen and Kurds insist that they were the dominant population in the city in earlier decades. Turkmen, a small but significant ethnic group, constitute about a third of Kirkuk’s residents, and the potential for massive urban strife in the city is high.