Sistani “Blesses” United Iraqi Alliance
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s web site [Arabic Link] has posted an article from the newspaper al-Ra’i al-`Amm which reports Sistani’s oral answers to questions its reporter submitted to him. The piece says that although Sistani “blesses” the United Iraqi Alliance (the list grouping most of the major Shiite religious parties), he “at the same time supports all the patriotic lists.” He says that he blesses the UIA because he knows the details of it and the personalities on it intimately. He does not insist that it is perfect or exemplary, and admits that some other lists may be better, but he simply does not know their details. (There are about 75 party lists and 6 coalitions, with over 7000 candidates).
[Cole: Sistani is going further in the direction of explicit endorsement of a particular slate than I would have expected from him, despite his use of euphemisms like “blessing” the list as opposed to “supporting” all the patriotic lists.]
Sistani also said that his lieutenants are urging Sunnis to vote as well as Shiites, and had had some success in convincing Sunnis to renounce their boycott of the elections.
He said that if Shiite militias were deployed to provide security to polling stations on Jan. 30, they must be firmly under the direct control of the central government.
Asked if he was satisfied with the pace of the rebuilding of Najaf in the wake of the heavy fighting there last August (between US troops and Mahdi Army militiamen), Sistani said that at this time a resort to violence made no sense. Diploatic and political approaches must be used, he said. He insisted that the spiritual position of Najaf was more important than its infrastructure. He pointed out that during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911, Najaf was much less well developed as a city than the Iranian seminary center of Qom. But, he said, Najaf had a much bigger impact on the movement for constitutionalism than had Qom, because of its spiritual supremacy.
With regard to debaathification, he said that all Iraqis have equal rights. (I.e. Sunnis, who largely supported the Baath, should not be discriminated against qua Sunnis.) He said, however, that if anyone was wanted for crimes committed while in officer during the Saddam period, they would have to face justice in the civil courts.
He was asked about the Kurdish demand for a loose federalism. Sistani replied that “federalism” as the word was used in contemporary Iraq has a negative rather than a positive content. He said those who insist on it were responding to the lack of checks and balances in Iraqi governance during the previous regime. He said that it would take a long time of democratic practice in Iraq for “federalism” to begin being used in a positive sense.
With regard to Iraq’s continued payment of reparations to Kuwait for the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Sistani said that there were two legal ways of looking at it. From the point of view of Islamic law, there are limitations on reparations. From the point of view of positive law, there are not. He implied that if the Kuwaitis really want to be good Muslims, they will follow Islamic law on reparations, which frowns on unbounded and unlimited transactions.