*An assassination attempt against Grand Ayatollah Hussain Bashir al-Najafi has been foiled in Najaf reports AFP The Badr Corps militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq captured the man in Najafi’s home on Sunday. He confessed to being a member of the Fedayeen of Saddam Hussain, and also said that he had killed two Americans in Kazimiyah with a sniper rifle. (This confession bolsters the case I have been making, for the violence in Najaf being the work of Sunni Iraqi nationalists with at least some residual Baath loyalties).
Some background here: Ayatollah Hussain Bashir al-Najafi is one of four leading Shiite scholars in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim, and Ishaq al-Fayyad or Fayyaz. Sistani and Hakim are of Iranian extraction. Al-Fayyad is an Afghan, though I do not know if he is Tajik or Hazara.
Hussain Bashir al-Najafi is from Pakistan originally. These four are political quietists and do not think that clergymen should enter politics directly. They do want Islamic law to be the law of the land, as in Sudan, so that is not the same as believing in a separation of religion and state. Their quietism means that they have not taken strong political positions opposing the US invasion and presence, which in turn makes them an asset for the United States.
Saddam’s people have been trying to kill Najafi for years. In 1999, the US State Department Human Rights report noted of Iraq that the UN “Special Rapporteur received detailed information concerning what he has called ” political killings,” described as the preplanned killings of individuals carried out by government agents. Following the 1998 killings of two internationally respected religious scholars, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Mirza Ali Al-Gharawi, age 68, and Ayatollah Sheikh Murtada Al-Burujerdi, age 69, the Special Rapporteur expressed his concern in a letter to the Government that the murders might be part of a systematic attack by Iraqi officials on the independent leadership of Shi’a Muslims in Iraq. The Government did not respond and the attacks continued. On January 6, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Bashir Hussain Al-Najafi and members of his seminary were attacked while performing religious duties. A grenade thrown at them killed three persons. Although wounded, Al-Najafi survived the attack.”
Saddam killed so many senior clerics that if the four grand ayatollahs in Najaf were assassinated, there would be few alternatives from the older, respected generation.
That would leave the door open to radicals such as Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, often called “the fifth.” He is in favor of a Khomeini-style government in Iraq and despises the US. He may yet come back to Najaf, where he has opened an office (he is in exile in Qom, Iran). Likewise, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, often called the spiritual inspiration for Lebanon’s radical Hizbullah party and militia, is from Najaf and may well go back there. Fadlallah is no Khomeinist. But a Najaf dominated by al-Haeri and Fadlallah would be a nightmare for the Americans. Likewise, assassinations of the older generation help Muqtada al-Sadr, who is widely popular despite his youth, especially among the young urban poor.
It seems clear that the Baathists are still carrying on their old campaign of assassination in Najaf, this time to push the Shiite community in a radical and anti-American direction by depriving it of the leadership of quietists and pragmatists.
The incident may also make it harder for the US to follow through on its insistence that Najaf’s militias disarm by Saturday. The US hopes to replace the Badr Corps, the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, and the al-Da`wa Party paramilitary with a unit of 400 men charged with guarding the seminaries and shrines, who would be controlled by the Minister of the Interior, Nuri al-Badran (an ex-Baathist close to Iyad Allawi).