Sistani’s Fatwa to the Americans
In the meantime, Bush’s team at the Coalition Provisional Authority were scrambling to respond to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s critique of their plans for Iraq. Sistani dislikes the plan to base voting on caucuses hand-picked by Iraqis who were in turn hand-picked by the US. Why, the ayatollah wants to know, can’t you just let the Iraqi people vote for a government? There are rolls of all Iraqis who received food aid from the UN, and all Iraqis did. You could use them as voter rolls, as well. Why can’t you specify beforehand that the new Iraqi government will not do anything contrary to Islam?
Jalal Talabani, the Sunni Kurdish president of the Interim Governing Council, met with Sistani. He had just ratified Bremer’s plan last week, but now had gone over to the Shiite ayatollah’s. “The agreement can evolve. … I will take his views to the council and we, God willing, hope to ratify them.” Al-Hayat reported him saying that “The Ayatollah expressed one reservation . . . he wants to take into account the opinion of the Iraqi people. He therefore holds it important to hold [general] elections for both the national assembly and the municipal councils.”
Shiites on the IGC waxed lyrical. Mouwafak al-Rabii [al-Rubaie] told the Associated Press, “Al-Sistani is our safety valve, and a compass that directs our march. The remarks attributed to him are very important and vital. They serve the interests of the Iraqi people, and I agree with them.” Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a “moderate” Shiite cleric on the IGC, told the Financial Times, “We will not accept a secular state,” and he added that “Mr Sistani also believed sovereignty should be vested in a transitional assembly rather than a transitional government.”
In contrast, the NYT reported that the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds on the IGC are petrified at Sistani’s plan, because it will establish a tyranny of the Shiite majority.
Al-Hayat says tthat key CPA officials have been thrown into bewilderment and have admitted that the whole plan may have to be rethought. The Washington Post suggested that Bremer’s team is so desperate to get out of Iraq and turn running the country over to someone that they might just take dictation from the Grand Ayatollah. ‘”Elections are now a possibility,” said a senior U.S. official close to Iraq’s political transition. “We’re scrambling to find a solution.” ‘
Presumably the thinking of this official is that the US already has a lot of the Sunni Arabs against it, and if the Shiites turn anti-American because the US disrespected the Grand Ayatollah’s fatwa, the situation will be irretrievable. Sistani is expected to issue a written ruling momentarily. Mr. Bremer is no doubt waiting for it with bated breath.
The Guardian had reported Mr. Bremer’s initial vow in Iraq last July 1, “We dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our will on this country.” Many Arab observers found the diction insufferably arrogant at the time.