Sistani Insists On General Elections

Sistani Insists on General Elections

After weeks of silence and rumors that he might back down on his demand that free and fair elections be held in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has come out and reiterated the demand. Reuters reports that Sistani said, “”The ideal mechanism…is elections which a number of experts confirm can be held within coming months with an acceptable degree of credibility and transparency. If the transitional assembly is formed by a mechanism that doesn’t have the necessary legitimacy, it wouldn’t be possible for the government to perform a useful function.”

az-Zaman quotes Sistani has having said that the transition plan “does not possess the required legitimacy” and “the formation of the transitional national assembly does not at all guarantee the representation of the Iraqis in a just manner.” It said he also wanted the elected transitional assembly due to take power on June 30 to ratify the Fundamental Law being crafted by the Interim Governing Council so that it would be legitimate until the new constitution can be crafted.

Sistani is clearly worried that the stage-managed elections envisioned by Paul Bremer, where the lowest level of the electorate is Coalition-appointed provincial councils, will produce an unrepresentative and unpopular government that may well face popular protest and become in itself a source of instability. He is probably also afraid that the Coalition has favored Sunni ex-Baathists in its appointments (these are Baathists who turned against Saddam at the last minute and who are owed something by Coalition forces.

Hamza Hendawi of AP reported, ‘But al-Sistani, who met Sunday with officials from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, said the U.S. plan would give birth to an illegitimate Iraqi government. “This will, in turn, give rise to new problems and the political and security situation will deteriorate,” al-Sistani said in a statement released by his office Sunday.’

The first US-appointed mayor of Najaf was such a Sunni Baathist, who had to be sacked for extortion, kidnapping and other corruption two months after the US installed him. This episode almost certainly left a bad taste in Sistani’s mouth, and may be one of the reasons he fears a US-installed national government. I can’t imagine what damn fool appointed a Sunni (barely) ex-Baathist officer mayor of the Shiite holy city of Najaf, but this kind of FUBAR has been typical of the post-war Bush administration follies in Iraq.).

But Sistani is also taking on the IGC itself, the members of which have been happy to play along with US plans to stage-manage the elections, because they hope such a process might get them reelected. If they have to run for office in popular elections, only the Kurdish members of the IGC and a few of the Shiites would likely be returned to office–i.e. maybe 7-8 out of 24.

In the southern Shiite city of Amara, protesters rallied for the second straight day, demanding employment, fuel, electricity, jobs, and the dismissal of the Coalition-appointed municipal council (precisely the kind of council that will elect the electoral college that will select the transitional government on May 31). Az-Zaman said that the protesters also demanded compensation from the British for the 6 protesters shot and the 11 wounded on Saturday. It said that it was rumored that 3 members of the clan of Abd al-Karim Mahoud* al-Muhammadawi were involved in shooting at the protesters (al-Muhammadawi’s Hizbullah tribal militia has been important in providing security and police functions in Amara and surrounding villages. He serves on the Interim Governing Council). At one point British troops charged demonstrators to disperse them from in front of the mayor’s mansion, but not further civilian casualties were reported.

Between the potential for Shiite unrest implicit in Sistani’s stance (he is the most respected figure in Iraqi public life), and the building tensions over the question of the place of the Kurds in a federal Iraq, the transition to a new government in Iraq looks increasingly fraught. This is not good news for Karl Rove, Bush’s campaign manager, who probably has been apoplectic about how the Iraq thing has been dragging on.

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*I had thought “Mahoud” must be a typo for Mahmoud, but the Arabic really is Ma:hu:d with a long a and a long u, according to az-Zaman.

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