Sistani Forbids Feeding Americans; Warns against Security Agreement; Hundreds of Sadrists Arrested

Fars News reproduces in Persian on May 24, 2008, another anti-American fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf. It says that its correspondent in Najaf reports that an Iraqi Shiite submitted the following to Sistani:

‘I sell foodstuffs. Sometimes the Occupying Powers or their associates come to my establishment. May I sell them foodstuffs?’

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani replied:

‘ Selling foodstuffs to the Occupying Powers is not permitted.’

Last I knew, the US military in Iraq does not buy its food from Iraqis but rather imports it, for fear that Iraqi nationalists might poison it. But I’m told US soldiers do buy food and snacks from Shiite shops in Baghdad when out on patrol. So the fatwa would affect the latter but not the former. But if Sistani is laying the grounds for a Gandhi-style non-cooperation movement, he certainly could put a crimp in the American military’s style in Iraq. I can’t imagine US troops could function in the Shiite south or much of Baghdad without Shiite cooperation. Sistani still has a great deal of moral authority, and would be backed by less cautious clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Jawad al-Khalisi.

This fatwa is significant in light of the reports that Sistani has been orally permitting attacks on US troops by Shiite militiamen loyal to the Shiite religious authorities in Najaf.

Then an Iranian news service reported yesterday that Sistani is also coming out against the proposed mutual security agreement between the United States and Iraq that is intended to serve as a Status of Forces Agreement after the United Nations Security Council authorization for US troops to be in Iraq expires in December.

The report says:

‘ The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with “the US occupiers” as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said. The source added the Grand Ayatollah had voiced his strong objection to the deal during a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday. ‘

Sistani may have been forced to take a stand on this issue because his clerical peers and rivals are coming out vocally on it.

The man some consider the ‘fifth Grand Ayatollah of Iraq,’ Sayyid Kadhim al-Ha’iri (who resides in Qom, Iran because he cannot abide the Occupation regime in Iraq) has denounced the proposed security agreement in no uncertain terms.

Fars News had reported in Persian on May 22 that al-Ha’iri (Haeri) rejected the security agreement. “Every knows that America intends to legitimize its illegitimate presence in our country,” so as, he said, “to loot its wealth and spreak poverty and deprivation.” Haeri argues that the US is hoping to use the new bilateral security agreement to escape from Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which subjects its actions in Iraq to the authority of the UN security council.

Haeri said that the US wants to ensure that “even American dogs in Iraq are reassured and protected from any threat of being tried by the state or the people, while all political institutions and courts, including the president of the republic, the prime minister, the representatives in parliament and the populace of Iraq must be answerable to the Americans.”

He called on Iraqis to work toward their liberty and said that America had never honored any of its treaties. He warned Iraqis against so humiliating themselves, quoting a saying from the Prophet Muhammad, “Beware abasement!” He called on Iraqis to unite against the conspiracies of the enemy.

On Friday, Arch-conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami of Iran weighed in on the debate, saying in a sermon:

‘ “American forces will keep the ministries of defense, interior and intelligence under their supervision for 10 years”. . . “Iraqi tribunals will not be able to judge American military personnel and employees of firms who work for the US military”, Khatami added. [The] Iranian cleric also uttered: “It is open-ended slavery.” “It is the worst humiliation… Any hand that signs such an agreement will be considered by Iran as a traitor to Islam, to Shiism and to the Iraqi people,” he added. ‘

So Sistani no doubt feels he has to make himself heard on all this or become irrelevant.

The agreement will specify how many bases the US may have in Iraq, where, and for how long. It will probably also grant US troops extraterritoriality, that is, a guarantee that they will not be tried in an Iraqi court for any crime committed on Iraqi soil.

The extraterritoriality of foreign troops was a common legal feature of colonial arrangements in the region. It was one of the things the nationalist movements campaigned about, and typically they abrogated it as soon as they came to power. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made the legal immunity of US troops in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s a plank in his platform of revolution against the Shah.

Both the US and the Iraqi government appear to recognize that US bases in Arab Iraq are likely to be contentious, and apparently the thinking is now increasingly to site most of them in Kurdistan, where the population is more welcoming. That scenario, however, seems to me to have severe drawbacks. Iraqi Kurdistan is harboring guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), who have frequently hit Turkey and provoked strong Turkish reprisals. You want to put US troops in the middle of that? The bases would have to be provisioned via Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey, so the Turks could always blackmail the US military into supporting them against their Kurdish hosts! Kurdistan is landlocked and surrounded by potentially hostile powers– Iran, Syria, and and the arab provinces of Iraq. Is that the sort of place it is wise to site thousands of US troops?

Meanwhile, Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that a wave of arrests of between 200 and 400 Sadrists by US troops and interventions to prevent them gathering for prayers by the Iraqi military is threatening the truce.

The Australian has more. The arrests were apparently made during prayer times in largely Shiite, Sadrist areas such as Bayaa.

My recent appearance on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, regarding PM Nuri al-Maliki’s recent security campaigns, is now available in transcript and streaming video.