South Asian Pilgrims Slaughtered

South Asian Pilgrims Slaughtered;
Sistani Retires from Politics
Upbraids Government for lack of Security

11 Pakistani and 3 Indian Shiite pilgrims that passed through al-Anbar Province and reached al-Nakhib to the west of Karbala, to which they were making pilgrimage–were captured, robbed, tortured and killed on Saturday. Their women relatives were allowed to go free. The dead will be buried at Karbala.

What anthropologist Michael Fischer of MIT once called “the Karbala Paradigm” is at the center of Shiite spirituality. The story of how the grandson of the Prophet, Imam Husayn, tried to help the people of Iraq against their oppressors, the Umayyad Empire, but was surrounded, cut down with family and friends by the armies of the Calph Yazid, is central to Shiism. The story is not just a historical narrative, but like the Passion of the Christ for Christians, has a cosmic dimension. Among Iraqi and other Shiites, the Sunni Arab guerrillas of Al-Anbar have transformed themselves into Yazid, and the hapless pilgrims have become ex post facto companions of the Imam (which is the significance of them being buried, as martyrs, in Karbala).

Reuters reports other violence, including an attack on Karbala guards.

Shiites in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and India are seething about this attack today, and there will certainly be reprisals against Sunnis in Iraq, if not elsewhere.

That is the reason for which Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani hurriedly issued a communique calling on the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to restore order in the country. Otherwise, he said, others would arise to do so (i.e. militias). Siatani had met al-Maliki earlier on Saturday.

The Grand Ayatollah wrote, “The failure of the government to carry out its missions and duties in assuring security and order and the protection of the lives of citizens creates an opportunity for unofficial forces to arise to fulfill that mission.”

Sistani’s point is that the al-Maliki government can hardly ask the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps, major Shiite militias, to disband if they are the only thing standing between Shiites and being blown up or decapitated.

The Daily Telegraph maintains that Sistani is angry and bitter about the rapid decline in his political influence. He had asked Shiite politicians of the United Iraqi Alliance to press the Americans for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops, but they had not followed through. (Hey, Americans, the Grand Ayatollah wants a timetable!) He had routinely asked Shiites not to fall into the guerrillas’ trap by engaging in reprisal killings, and for the first two years they listened to him on the whole. No longer; the Telegraph reports:

‘ “I will not be a political leader any more,” he told aides. “I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters . . “
Al-Sistani’s aides say that he has chosen to stay silent rather than suffer the ignominy of being ignored. Ali al-Jaberi, a spokesman for the cleric in Khadamiyah, said that he was furious that his followers had turned away from him and ignored his calls for moderation.

Asked whether Ayatollah al-Sistani could prevent a civil war, Mr al-Jaberi replied: “Honestly, I think not. He is very angry, very disappointed.”

He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani’s decision. “He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him,” he said. “After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad.” . . .

Sistani’s theory of the guardianship of the jurisprudent is much more limited than that of Khomeini and his tradition in Iran. Sistani believes that the supreme jurisprudent should only intervene in structural matters affecting the “order of society,” not in everyday politics. (Thus, he did intervene to ensure one person, one vote elections in Iraq in the face of Bush administration opposition). But he believes that even this structural role can only be played by a Shiite cleric who has gained the allegience of the people and is popular among them. I take it he is saying that it is his perception that he is no longer in a position to play that pivotal role because Iraq’s Shiites have been turning to leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr. (Since al-Sadr is sort of an all-but-dissertation Ph.D. student and Sistani is the most eminent professor in the system, this desertion of the old man for the younger one in the street is a real slap in the face to the Najaf establishment.)

Al-Maliki affirmed that his government was up to the task. He must be worried about Sistani’s slam, however. Despite his declining influence, Sistani’s conclusion that former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari just was not decisive enough to restore security played a role in al-Jaafari’s fall from power.

Salih al-Mutlak, the head of the National Dialogue Front, with 11 seats in parliament (secular, mostly ex- Baathist Sunni), criticized al-Maliki for visiting Sistani and warned that it “could lead to the establishment of the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent in Iraq” (a reference to the Iranian theocratic system, in which the chief cleric heads up the government.) He said that the Iraqi government should make decisions on its own and not be guided by a central religious authority.

The Association of Muslim Scholars (Salafi Sunni clerics) issued a statement condemning the Kurdish decree that the flag of the central Iraqi republic will not be flown in Kurdistan. They said, “Such a step comes at the same time that attempts are being made to partition the petroleum and the instigation to establish provincial confederacies here and there, when the country is occupied and the people are being killed and undergoing poverty and hunger.” It is a bold step toward separation.”

39,000 Sunni and Shiite Iraqi Arab families have fled to Kurdistan because of the insecurity in their regions. This is an increas from 27,000 the last Kurdistan officials released these numbers.