AFP and ash-Sharq al-Awsat are reporting that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (73) in Najaf issued a statement through is son, Muhammad Rida Ali Sistani, calling for Iraq to be government by “the best of its sons” (khirat abna’ihi). “It is for Iraqis to choose who governs; we want them to control the country.” The son added his own comment: “The Americans are welcome but I don’t think that it’s a good thing that they stay for long.” Sistani is thus throwing his considerable authority against the administration of Iraq by Jay Garner and an American shadow cabinet. While the opposition of more hardline groups like the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq might have been contained, I don’t know how the Bush administration can go against the will of the Grand Ayatollah in a largely Shiite country without facing a good deal of trouble.
*Meanwhile, IslamOnline.net says it received a statement from Shaikh Muhammad Mahdi al-Khalisi (b. 1938) of Karbala, saying: “Now that the idol (statue of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein) has been pulled down, the occupation troops should leave our country. Iraq had gone astray 40 years ago and it is high time it came home . . . In the name of all scholars and leaders of the Shiite Najafi revolution in Iraq, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending Iraq against the occupation of 1914 and 1920, I urge all Iraqis to stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent occupation troops and foil malicious plots weaved by Washington and London from looting the fruits of such sacrifices.” The online site characterized this as a call for jihad against the Americans, but that seems to me a little sensational. On the other hand, it is not good news for the Garner plan. The Khalisis played a key role in the failed 1920 revolution against the British in Iraq.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz trumpeted the non-existent “fatwa” attributed to Sistani earlier, as “the first pro-American fatwa.” But it was probably just an oral statement, not a formal ruling; and it was hardly the first such statement by a Muslim cleric. What will Wolfowitz of Arabia make of these two statements that came out from senior ayatollahs today?
Given all the trouble the Americans are already having from the al-Sadr and al-Khalisi families, they may be interested to know it was the same for the British. Of Sir Percy Cox’s Draconian suppression of the 1920 revolt, Gertrude Bell wrote, “Telegrams and reports come in from the provinces all saying that Sir Percy’s action is universally approved. Sharp action has been taken in Diwaniyah [Diwaniyah, Ad] and Shamiyah [Shamiyah, Ash] to establish law and order, and after bombing raids by air all the extremist tribal leaders have made submission – except ‘Abdul Wahid who has no tribal following and will probably give way in the the next day or two. In fact it has been decisively proved that we were right and the King wrong when we said that firm action with the extremists would bring them instantly to heel. Sir Percy’s greatest triumph has been with the two dangerous ‘alims of Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)], Saiyid Muhammad Sadr and Shaikh Muhammad Mahdi al Khalisi. He sent them word that he was ever careful to safeguard the honour of religious dignitaries and that to save him from the painful duty of exiling them by force, he advised them to travel to Persia (they are Persian subjects.) They left on the night of the 29th.” I don’t think nowadays it will be so easy to get rid of the Khalisis and the Sadrs.
*A meeting of Iraqi notables at Ur near Nasiriya has produced a 13-point document calling for the dissolution of the Baath Party and the establishment of democratic federalism in Iraq. The US picked the groups who would be represented, and the groups picked their delegates.
The most organized Shiite group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, boycotted the meeting. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a leader of SCIRI, said according to David Espo of the Canadian Press, “Iraq needs an Iraqi interim government. Anything other than this tramples the rights of the Iraqi people and will be a return to the era of colonization.” .
And according to Reuters *thousands* of the largely Shiite residents of nearby Nasiriya staged a protest rally against the prospect of an American occupation of Iraq (which is being planned by Washington to last 2-3 years, at least). They shouted, “No to America, no to Saddam.” Thousands? protesting US presence already? That isn’t a good sign. Were these loyalists to the al-Hakim family, which runs SCIRI? Is SCIRI, which has broken with and threatened the US forces, that important?
The Canadian Press reports that even some of the delegates at Ur oppose US plans. They reject an American administration headed by Jay Garner. Espo writes, “Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one of the leaders of the Daawa party, an influential Shiite group, turned down his invitation. ‘We have our reservations against attending a meeting called for by a military side,’ he said.”
*I wrote to one of my lists about the looting of the Iraq Museum and National Library:
The US government was advised repeatedly by scholars of Iraq about the need to protect the Museum and archives, and this advice was received at the highest levels. The Museum had been partially looted in the 1991 uprising, so this was not a surprise. I know for a fact that the uniformed side of the Pentagon was deeply concerned about the prospect of urban disorder, looting and reprisal killings when the time came for the regime to collapse.
One problem was that the US military has no mobile gendarmerie that could be inserted into such situations. Some European allies do, but most of them either were not on board with the war or were not invited to coordinate with the Anglo-British forces in this way.
But, even with this handicap, the US forces were perfectly capable of guarding the *Oil Ministry* buildings, just by stationing a tank outside them. At one point for two hours looting of the Museum was deterred in a similar manner, but then the tank was inexplicably called back. It was not that the US military could not have performed this task because of continued insecurity. Some sort of decision was taken about what was important and what was not.
I personally cannot escape the conclusion that this monumental tragedy for Iraq’s national history was the result of Rumsfeld’s willful ignoring of all the warnings received and the unilateralism with which the Anglo-American forces proceeded. I put most of the blame on the civilians at the head of the Department of Defense.
I do not think any American can fully understand the emotional shock of it. Not only are thousands of antiquities gone, but so too are all the manuscripts and archival documents on which early modern and modern Iraqi history writing could have been based. Nor do I think the Iraqi intellectual class will soon forget or forgive this travesty.
I suspect for the US to allow the looting of Iraq’s archeological and manuscript heritage was in fact a contravention of the Fourth Geneval Convention of 1949. The US was the occupying power when the looting occurred, even if there were pockets of resistance (none to my knowledge have been alleged at the Museum site). It is certainly is a contravention of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict ( http://www.icomos.org/hague/ ).
In short, we can say of the complete loss of Iraqi national history: It was foreseen; it was preventable; it was horribly stupid and tragic; it will have long-term negative effects on the Iraqi perception of the US role; and it contravened international law.