Sistani Stands Ground on Demand for General Elections
AFP reports that six members of the Interim Governing Council met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf on Thursday to discuss his demand that general elections be held this spring. The IGC agreed with US civil administrator Paul Bremer on November 15 that caucus-type elections, by hand- picked pro-American local councils, would be held by the end of May. Sistani objected that such an election would not adequately reflect the will of the Iraqi people, and insists on one-person, one-vote general elections. He also wanted an up-front guarantee that the Iraqi legislature would not pass laws at variance with Islam. The IGC has ever since been negotiating with him in an attempt to find a compromise. AFP said, ‘ “Despite obstacles that have been raised, he would only renounce elections if a UN technical team reaches the conclusion that it is impossible to hold them and proposes another solution that would guarantee a better representation of the Iraqi people,” Sistani’s spokesman said. ‘ Sistani therefore stood his ground about the need for general elections.
Sistani’s refusal to budge poses a severe problem for the US, which wants now to move quickly to an “Afghanistan” model, hold an American-invented Iraqi “Loya Jirga” or council of hand-picked notables, “elect” a transitional government, and turn over sovereignty to it, as they did to Karzai in Afghanistan. This plan appears to derive from despair that the US will actually be able to administer Iraq for very much longer, given Iraqi sullenness about the occupation, and from a desire of the Bush administration to bring home the reporters, if not the troops, well before the November 2004 elections. Karl Rove probably figures that the US press simply won’t cover Iraq as intensively if the US isn’t running it, just as they don’t cover Afghanistan any more now that Karzai is in charge (even though the US has 10,000 troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan). US journalism is dedicated to the principle that the American public doesn’t want to read about anything that is in the least bit distant, foreign, or hard to understand. The existence of the Coalition Provisional Authority creates the illusion that Iraq is part of the US beat for journalists; renaming it “the US embassy in Iraq,” Bush hopes, will dissolve that illusion. Sistani is therefore standing in the way of a smooth political progression that has enormous import for the next US election.