Tens of Thousands of Pilgrims Flock to Najaf, Support Sistani
Wire services report that tens of thousands of Shiites thronged to the holy city of Najaf yesterday to celebrate a holy day. Many of them also took the occasion as an opportunity to show banners and chant slogans in favor of direct elections, which Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called for.
The opportunity for such melding of religion and mass politics will occur on a much larger scale in about a month during the holy month of Muharram, when enormous numbers of Shiites will come to Najaf and Karbala from all over Iraq (and all over the world). Should the United Nations and the US have announced by then a refusal to hold direct elections, these masses of pilgrims could turn the religious events into a political protest. Many Shiites would find such actions distasteful, but Khomeinist radicalism authorized this technique. Khomeini tried to use the pilgrimage to Mecca itself for political purposes.