Sistani: Sunnis Must have Effective Participation
Al-Hayat: [What follows is a paraphrase:] A source close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf affirmed Saturday that the new permanent constitution for Iraq must not be sectarian in character, whatever the results of the elections to be held on January 30. He said that “The center of religious authority is eager that all participate in drafting the constitution.” He complained that the newspapers had reported that Sistani had ruled that Iraqis must participate in the elections or they would go to hell. He said that Sistani had never said any such thing. [The remark on non-voters going to hell was by Shaikh Ahmad Safi, Sistani’s representative in Karbala. – J. Cole]
Indeed, he insisted, the attitude of the religious center toward the elections was conditioned on many factors. If Sistani became convinced that there was a likelihood of widespread fraud in the elections, he would not hesitate to urge that they be boycotted. But for the moment, he said, the alternative to elections seems to be chaos. There is a timetable and a UN security council resolution prescribing the institutions be elected that can then undertake to draft the constitution, as well as having the ability to demand that the Occupying powers depart from Iraq, supporting this stance by their popular legitimacy.” [paraphrase corrected 1/10/05 with kind help of Dr. Gilbert Ashcar.]
He said that “The representation of our Sunni brethren in the coming government must be effective, regardless of the results of the elections.” He said Sistani opposed an American suggestion that a Sunni bloc of MPs be appointed to the new parliament, a suggestion he said that the Sunnis rejected even before the Shiites did.”
He noted that the Shiite center of authority had undertaken “a bitter struggle to derail the original American plan of appointing a committee to draft the constitution, and struggled mightily on behalf of holding direct elections before June [of 2004], when sovereignty was transferred and a cabinet was appointed, in which we had no confidence, to form the new government. We were convince that holding the elections before the transfer of sovereignty was possible with a good chance of transparency and fairness. Wnad we informed [UN envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi] that the voice of moderates was [at that time, spring 2004] strong–but that Iraq was headed in the direction of greater extremism. The experts advising the United Nations decided to hold elections after seven months [i.e. at the end of January 2005]. We concurred,a nd worked to quieten the turmoil in the Shiite popular base.
He continued, “We do not accuse those who asked for a postponement of the elections then, and among them was the [Sunni] Association of Muslim Scholars, of conspiring with the Americans (who also wanted the seven-month delay), but we are now being accused of complicity with the Americans in insisting that the election be held on schedule.
He pointed out that the partisans of postponing the elections had said that they couldn’t be held on the basis of the old food rationing cards, and that a delay was necessary so that a census could be taken. But in the end it was decided to use the ration cards [which means that the elections might as well have been held in May, 2004 as Sistani wanted.]
He went on to ask, So why should there now be a delay? Can anyone guarantee that the situation will be better in six months? Is there any guarantee that those now boycotting will participate in six months? What exactly are the goals of a delay? No one is answering this question.
The source also addressed the charges that the United Iraqi Alliance, which was put together under Sistani’s auspices, is a stalking horse for Iran. This accusation derives from the prominence in its ranks of members of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI], which was based in Tehran 1982-2003, and the Dawa Party, which had a prominent Tehran branch consisting of Iraqi expatriates during the same period. The spokesman said, “These are Iraqi parties that fought against the former regime. The proportion of SCIRI and Dawa representatives on the list is no more than 22 percent. And those who accuse these two parties today of being “Iranian” were not doing so when they confined all Shiite representation in the temporary national council to these two . . .”
[This is a reference to the Americans, who all along have favored SCIRI and Dawa for high government appointments, but who are now complaining about their Iran links.]
He also rejected charges that the United Iraqi Alliance is a Shiite ticket designed to grab power. He said that the very reason the list only put up 228 candidates for 275 seats was to signal that they did not want to exclude anyone. He contrasted this approach with that of the [Sunni] Iraqi Islamic Party before it withdrew from the elections, which had put up a full 275-member slate. But it, he said, was not termed “the Sunni slate.”
As for the charge that a “Shiite arc” was forming in the Middle East, the spokesman said that Sistani had no desire to take Iraq toward sectarianism and that he would not spend time refuting a position he never held in the first place.
He said that the issues concering possible involvement of Syria and Iran in violence in Iraq were matters beyond the purview of Sistani, and were the responsibility of the Iraqi state.
Meanwhile, the drumbeat of violence continued on Saturday, with the US dropping a 5 hundred pound bomb on the wrong house in a village near Mosul, the kidnapping of an election official, the discovery of the body of the governor of the province of Salahuddin, a car bomb in Mahaweel, the murder of a translator for the US military, etc.
The Washington Post also reports:
‘ Rebel Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr joined Sunnis in calling for a delay in the vote, saying that elections cannot happen if Sunnis cannot fairly participate. In a statement read by his aides, Sadr also said that elections cannot happen until the foreign coalition troops leave because elections held under occupation are illegitimate. The occupying forces are “trying to lead us to sectarian state and civil war, God forbid. Therefore, be cautious and be careful to reject all that could lead to that, including the election process,” Sadr said in his statement. “Know that when our dear Sunnis do not participate, it will give no importance to the elections.” ‘