Sistani Interview in Der Spiegel
If the article coming out on Saturday in Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, is accurate, it seems to me to portend significant difficulties ahead for the US. Sistani clearly is insisting on a new United Nations Security Council Resolution that would set out the procedures and timetable for free and fair direct elections in Iraq, if these cannot be held before the transfer of sovereignty on July 1 to an indigenous government. The US has resisted having a new resolution passed. Sistani is insisting (contrary to what his spokesman told Nick Blanford, above) that Islamic canon law or Shariah be the basis of the Iraqi legal code. And, Sistani is threatening that if he does not get what he wants on a short timeframe, he is prepared to launch a Shiite uprising against the Americans and their Coalition. The article says that his followers already have the placards for the demonstrations printed up and stored for use. The US so far has resisted both UNSC involvement in the process and adoption of religious law. If the Bush administration defies Sistani on these issues, there could be a lot of trouble looming ahead in Iraq.
This is my translation of the teaser for the interview, which is already online:
Der Spiegel EXCLUSIVE
Shiite leader Sistani insists on general elections
“Shiite leader Sayyid Ali al-Sistani becomes assertive with the USA. The Grand Ayatollah, in a Spiegel interview, presents the UN with an ultimatum insisting with Washington on a rapid transfer of power to a freely elected Iraqi government. He requires, in addition, the introduction of the “Sharia”, the Islamic juridical system.
Hamburg – “the UN has authorized the USA to administer Iraq until 30 June 2004 as occupying power”, said Sistani, religious leader of the Shiites, and one of the most influential preachers in Iraq, in the interview in Der Spiegel, which appears on Saturday. Now it [the UN] is also obligated to supervise the “transition from the occupation regime to a sovereign Iraq in every detail”.
If elections cannot be accomplished any longer in good time before the return of sovereignty “because of delaying tactics of the occupier,” the prominent leader from the Shiite pilgrimage city of Najaf stated his precondition for accepting such a delay: The preparations for elections “would have to be brought about over a short time frame and made dependent on a resolution of the UN security council”.
A resolution of the security council must also contain “guarantees that there will be no further delay of the elections”. Sistani, 73, who has so far only rarely expressed himself in interviews, insisted to Der Spiegel also on the introduction of the Islamic juridical system (“Sharia”) as basis of a future constitution.
The popular cleric, who suffered several years of house arrest under the regime of the fallen despot Saddam Hussein, hopes that the Shiite majority population will have a crucial influence on the political future of his country. “The rights of religious minorities”, said Sistani, in a clear acquiescence in a pluralist constitution, “would nevertheless be protected”.
Despite these assurances, such positions are a direct challenge of Washington. The US civil administrator in Bagdad, Paul Bremer, had affirmed only the previous week, that he would sign no constitution, that established a theocracy on the Euphrates and Tigris. The superpower fears that – instead of the democracy it wanted, after western model-a Shiite regime hostile to America could develop right next to Iran.
In view of the American attitude, Sistani warned Washington against further maneuvering. “It must not go on for a long time”, said the preacher, and threatened, with only a few qualifications, an Iraqi Intifada (uprising): “the people know what they have to do.” If America does not deal with his position, he wants to call the Iraqis to rise up. Appropriate posters are printed already and stored throughout the country ready for distribution.”