Al Abbudi Sistani Endorses United

Al-Abbudi: Sistani Endorses the United Iraqi Alliance

Al-Zaman reports via AFP that Shaikh Naji al-Abbudi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spoke at a conference on the upcoming elections in the southern Shiite city of Diwaniyah on Sunday, and said something that is explosive if it is true. He alleged that Sistani is throwing his support to the slate of the United Iraqi Alliance, which is led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (the party head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq). [See also al-Sharq al-Awsat.] At the close of the conference, al-Abbudi said in an address to 1500 clerics and clan heads that Sistani wants the elections held on schedule and that he affirms his support of Slate 169, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). He explained that Sistani supports this slate because of its Islamic coloration and the ability of its leaders to move the country toward a better future. Al-Abbudi said that Sistani wanted to safeguard the name of Islam.

He continued that this slate had confronted a virtual war on it only because it contains all the major tendencies and groups in Iraqi society. When Sistani discovered that the other slates were using television, newspapers, and international media to do election campaigning, he therefore called clearly for support for the UIA. [Implied is that Sistani hopes his moral authority will outweigh the slick advertising and media press conferences of rival politicians such as interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.]

I am suspicious of this report. It is not like Sistani to endorse a particular party, though he certainly hasn’t objected it it using his name and likeness in campaign posters. If al-Abbud is correct, it means that Sistani is really worried that Shiites won’t get the message to vote for the UIA by any more subtle means, and felt he had to actively endorse it. Sistani’s prestige is enormous, and if Shiites in the South think he wants them to vote for the UIA, most of them will.

The UIA candidates continue to face severe danger. Al-Hakim narrowly missed being assassinated recently.

Sally Buzbee of AP reports that guerrillas wearing police uniforms staged an ambush Sunday in downtown Baghdad on Salama al-Khafaji. She escaped injury thanks to quick action by her bodyguards. Al-Khafaji, a highly conservative Shiite female politician from Karbala, had served on the US-appointed Interim Governing Council and is now running for parliament on the United Iraqi Alliance slate put together under the auspices of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. This is the second attempt on her life this year.

Guerrillas targeted schools scheduled to be used as polling places, hitting one with mortar fire at Mosul, and for others in the far south at Basra. Even in central Iraq south of Baghdad, much of which is Shiite, election workers are receiving death threats, according to AP, which quoted a US embassy official in Hillah.

Sistani’s prominence also puts his aides at risk. Ali al-Khatib, son of Sheikh Habib al-Khatib (the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Wasit) was shot down in an internet cafe in Naaman on Sunday. His father had survived an assassination attempt two months ago.

Al-Zaman reports that the nephew of Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr of Kadhimayn was wounded and one of his chiefs of security–Jasim Muhammad al-Saadi– was killed on Saturday. Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr is the uncle of Muqtada al-Sadr but is pro-American and relatively liberal, unlike the populist, radical Muqtada. Hussein al-Sadr is supporting the list of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and his bodyguards and nephew were out putting up posters for his “Iraqiyyah” slate (Allawi’s party was the Iraqi National Accord, but not all the Iraqiyyah candidates are INA). Then they were attacked.

Hussein al-Sadr’s spokesman implied that the incident occured because they strayed into the turf of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. They came near the house of Bayan Jabr, a leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) who had earlier served as Minister of Housing. The nephew and the bodyguards appear to have realized that they were in hostile territory, and tried to withdraw, but the effort was met with a hail of bullets. (It is implied but not explicitly said in the piece that Badr Corps fighters fired the shots; the Badr Corps is the paramilitary arm of SCIRI). Hussein al-Sadr is among those who have complained lately that the United Iraqi Alliance is using Sistani’s name and likeness in its campaigning.

Although it is not clear that radical young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr supports the UIA, it is clear that he deeply dislikes Iyad Allawi, and it seems to me that he is trying to make trouble for Allawi’s slate. Long lines for Iraqi motorists wanting to buy gasoline have become routine. The Sadr movement tried to make it a political issue on Sunday. Hundreds of followers of Muqtada al-Sadr began a 3-day sit-in at the Minister of Petroleum in Baghdad to protest gasoline shortages. AP says that “About a dozen entered the ministry and complained to Minister Thamir Ghadbhan, asking why U.S. troops have fuel for their vehicles and Iraqis do not.” AFP reports that “thousands” of Sadrists staged similar protests in the Shiite areas on Sunday.

Al-Hayat says that the protesters carried posters saying that “The government of Allawi is a continuation of the dictatorial government of Saddam” and demanded a return of normal electricity service and an end to the fuel crisis.

The protesters also alleged that the shortages of water, electricity and fuel were a deliberate policy of the US, the UK and Israel to keep Iraqis down.