Sistani Counsels Shiites Against

Sistani Counsels Shiites Against Wasted Votes
Sunni Arabs Plead for Talks

Knight Ridder reports on dirty campaign tricks and over-heated rhetoric in the Iraq political campaign.

Robert Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle has an extremely important piece based on interviews with Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq. Their general consensus is that if the US leaves Iraq without negotiating a settlement with the Sunni Arab leadership, a vicious civil war will break out, as the Shiite religious parties come to dominate the country.

Reuters reports that US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad says he is in fact in negotiations with Sunni Arab guerrilla leaders. He also maintains that the Kurdish political leadership is committed to staying in Iraq.

Al-Zaman [Arabic]/ DPA: The highest spiritual authority for Iraqi Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf, urged Iraqs on Sunday to participate in the elections scheduled for the coming Thursday. He refrained from encouraging them to vote for the United Iraqi Alliance (he had done so in the Jan. 30 elections earlier this year). In a communique issued by his office, Sistani added, “These elections are just as important as the preceding ones, and citizens–both male and female– must participate in them on a wide scale in order to guarantee a big and powerful presence for those who will safeguard their verities and work energetically for their higher interests in the next parliament.” He did warn them about splitting or wasting their vote. [Cole: This last phrase might be taken as a de facto endorsement of the United Iraqi Alliance, which groups most of the religious Shiite candidates.]

Shaikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala’i, Sistani’s representative in the holy city of Karbala, had said on Oct. 28 that Sistani would decline to endorse any political party in these elections. He strongly implied in a later sermon that Sistani was unhappy over the UIA government’s inability to provide basic services to Iraqis. Al-Karbala’i had predicted that the UIA would lose a great many seats if it went on like this.

Ammar al-Hakim, son of UIA leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, disputed al-Karbala’i’s allegations. He pointed out that the UIA had been formed under Sistani’s auspices, and said that the grand ayatollah had never withdrawn his support.

A letter attributed to Sistani had emerged from Najaf over a week ago that appeared to endorse the UIA, but it was later disavowed by Sistani’s office. Still, the present communique, which counsels against splitting or wasting the Shiite vote, has some of the same language. My suspicion is that a draft letter was leaked before Sistani was finished with it, and the draft was more explicit than he wanted to be.

The Boston Globe has more on Sistani and the elections.

The poor security in Iraq has hurt women’s rights and women’s political participation, according to CSM.

Al-Zaman/DPA say that US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Sunday was in Sulaimaniyah laying the foundation stone for the American University there. They say that he expressed the hope that the newly elected parliament would make Jalal Talabani president for a 4-year term. (Sulaimaniyah, a northern Kurdish city, is Talabani territory).

[Cole: I am delighted about the formation of an American University in Sulaimaniyah, and I admire a lot of what Ambassador Khalilzad has been accomplishing in Iraq. I also like Mam Jalal a great deal. But I don’t think it is appropriate for the US ambassador to weigh in on the issue of who parliament should elect president. By the way, the constitution requires a 2/3s majority for the election of the president. Since there were severe tensions between Talabani and the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance prime minister (Ibrahim Jaafari), I would be a little surprised if they put him in again–and he could not get in without them.]

Al-Zaman/ AFP: Muntadhar al-Samarra’i, the former commander of the Iraqi special forces, said Sunday that the Minister of Interior, Bayan Jabr Sulagh, appointed 17,000 fighters from the Badr Militia as police officers in his ministry at a time when they still receive their salaries from Iran. Al-Samarra’i accused the Badr Corps [the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq] of employing torture on detainees in prison. He showed AFP a film he himself had shot of torture in Iraqi prisons. He said all of the high officials in the Ministry of the Interior are from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Dawa (Shiite parties), whereas the detainees are Sunni Arabs. Al-Samarra’i also said that the special police speak Persian with one another (the Badr Corps fighters had been expatriates in Iran). He spoke of several secret prisons, some with as many as 600 inmates, and said there were also jails for women.

The Washington Post says that a second secret jail has been uncovered in Iraq where detainees were being abused.

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