Larry Kaplow Of Atlanta Journal

Larry Kaplow of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that clerical followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani are beginning to threaten direct political action if his fatwa calling for direct elections (one person one vote) of the transitional government is rejected:

‘ “The time has come for us to get our rights,” said Sheik Abdel Mehdi al-Karbalayi, al-Sistani’s representative in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. “I’m not saying there will be military action. Maybe it will be civilian. But there will be instability.” ‘

Sistani has stood for not rocking the boat too hard ever since he became the leading Iraqi Shiite jurisprudent in 1992. He declined to take on Saddam directly. That even Sistani’s followers are talking in this passionate and threatening way points to a level of frustration among moderate Shiites that took me aback. I said on Lehrer Monday that I did not think Sistani would call for street demonstrations if he did not get his way. Was I wrong?

Sistani’s opposition to the American plan has given an opening to the more radical Sadr movement, which according to Paul Martin of the Washington Times mounted a demonstration in favor of direct elections in Hilla on Wednesday. (The US military arrested a major lieutenant of Muqtada al-Sadr in East Baghdad, Amar al-Yasiri, in connection with an October firefight between Sadrists and the US army, which produced US casualties).

The plan for a new anti-terrorist force of 750-850 fighters, drawn from the militias of 5 Iraqi parties, appears to be going forward. It is scary that the force will include members of the Badr Corps (trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards). Western news agencies are not reporting, as al-Zaman does, that one of the five paramilitaries providing fighters is the Communist Party of Iraq! So, the last best hope of the US for an effective anti-terror campaign in Iraq rests with hardline Shiites and Communists?

Meanwhile, Hujjatu’l-Islam Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, now the president for December of the Interim Governing Council, is still insisting on direct elections. Along with Ibrahim Jaafar and Mouwafak al-Rubaie, he forms part of a rump opposition to the majority of the IGC, who agree with the American plan for caucus type elections.

Raja’ al-Khuzai’s op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times, arguing for the need for special political protections for women, suggests to me that she may not be standing with Sistani despite being a Shiite herself (she co-authored with Turkmen feminist Songul Chapouk). One-person-one-vote sorts of elections have typically returned few women candidates anywhere in the world. If I am right, then gender as well as ideology is entering into the creation of an IGC majority in favor of defying Sistani.

Abu Aardvark

questioned my description of Sistani as a pure democrat. What I meant by that was only that in his fatwas since June, he has consistently said that legitimate government must derive from the will of the people (“al-hukumah ash-shar`iyyah munbathiqah min iradat ash-sha`b” or words to that effect). He specifically says that sovereignty derives from the people. That seems to me as democratic as anything said by Enlightenment thinkers in Europe. Of course, Sistani does demarcate a limit to democracy, which is that the people must not legislate or adopt policy that directly contradicts Islamic law. But then all democracies are limited by constitutional provisions. A majority of Americans now might not vote for all the 10 amendments to the constitution that make up the Bill of Rights. But they are stuck with them anyway. Likewise, Sistani thinks an Iraqi democracy would be stuck with the “constitutional” principles of shari`ah or Islamic law. But he nevertheless insists on one person one vote as the guarantor of governmental legitimacy. That seems to me a commitment to pure democracy.

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