Sistani Endorses Religious Candidates

Sistani Endorses Religious Candidates
19 Iraqi Soldiers Killed

Guerrillas near the town of Adhaim, northeast of Baghdad, mounted a coordinated ambush of Iraqi troops on Saturday, killing 19 and wounding 4. The Bush administration ties US troop withdrawals from Iraq to the ability of the new Iraqi army to deal with the guerrillas itself. More details emerged regarding the killing of 10 US Marines at Amiriyat al-Fallujah just before the weekend. An eleventh appears to have died of his wounds and 3 more GIs died in a vehicle accident near Balad. “Accidents” in Iraq are often not unconnected to the guerrilla war. There was a new outbreak of fighting in Samarra, a Sunni Arab city north of Baghdad. Fighting continued in the Ramadi area.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Shiite community in Iraq, has had a statement distributed urging Iraqis to vote in the Dec. 15 elections, and to vote for religious rather than secular (“dangerous”) candidates. He also warned against voting for small individual lists and so splitting the Shiite vote. gives the text of the communique [Arabic], which does not have the form of a formal legal ruling or fatwa. The statement will nevertheless be taken seriously by religious Shiites (the vast majority). It is an indirect endorsement of the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of 17 Shiite religious parties that is dominated by the big 3: Dawa, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadrists.

The statement begins by reminding believers of the role of the religious leadership in Najaf in upholding the honor of Islam and the legacy of the family of the Prophet. The religious authority of Najaf is likened to a kind father for all believers, which seeks their welfare. The communique offers several pieces of guidance for the believers regarding the upcoming elections:

1. It is necessary to participate in the elections.

2. One must not vote for dangerous lists (the lists that do not observe the essential verities of religion and nation).

3. One must not vote for purely local lists (i.e. lists that have no presence in other provinces)

4. One must not vote for individual lists, which do not group various parties and do not call them to unity.

It goes on to say that a heavy duty has been laid on the believers by the religious authority, of investigating the characteristics of the various parties and choosing only those that adhere to the doctrines promulgated by the House of the Prophet. The task is onerous but not impossible.

“It is also of the utmost gravity, for the victorious list will have a large role in founding and strengthening the pillars of the state and of the country, and for 4 full years. It will moreover be concerned with passing 55 legislative projects, which will have a profound implication for the lives and the future of the people of Iraq.”

(I take it Sistani is here referring to the 55 passages in the permanent constitution that specify that parliament shall legislate further supporting details through statute. That is, he is saying that precisely because the constitution is so unformed and kicked so many issues down the road, to be dealt with by parliament, the character of the elected parliament will be crucial to the actual shape of the constitution.)

Sistani reminds his readers that they must honor the tragic legacy of all the lives sacrificed in modern Iraq’s wars, and the dead in [Saddam’s] mass graves, by voting responsibly.

To guarantee the accuracy of the communique, urges readers to call Sistani’s offices, and gives the phone numbers!

Ashraf Khalil of the LA Times reports on how the Supreme Council, a leading element in the United Iraqi Alliance, is using Shiite mosques to get the word out to Shiites to vote UIA. Some SCIRI figues, such as Sadruddin Qubanchi [Qubanji], have attacked the Sunni Iraqi Islami Party as indistinguishable from the old Baath Party. (This charge is bizarre– IIP has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood in Mosul, and was suppressed by the Baath). Qubanchi is openly calling for continued dominance by the Shiite religious parties. reports a widespread conviction that “regional and international forces” will attempt to fix the December 15 elections so as to throw them to the ex-Baathist secularist and old-time CIA asset, Iyad Allawi. There are also some observers who genuinely believe Allawi has a shot at a come-back. I remain skeptical. That these rumors are circulating in Iraq may help explain why Sistani decided to weigh in.

Ed Wong of the NYT gets the story again. He explores exactly what has happened in Najaf since September when US troops departed the city for a base 40 miles away. He argues that: The local security forces have the province relatively well in hand, and there is only one bombing or serious attack a month there. He says that the local security forces do not seem as massively penetrated by the militias of the religious parties. as is the case in Basra. The Iraqi police and military do have to call the US troops in to handle a particularly challenging situation about once a month.

The one issue about which I’d like more information is probably one on which it cannot be had. How many of the police and Iraqi military in Najaf have a background in the Badr Corps? The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq controls the provincial government and the deputy governor is Badr Organization. My suspicion is that the relative security in Najaf has to do precisely with the Badr Corps members stepping up, in the framework of the Iraqi security forces. Perhaps they do not advertise their former allegiance as much as in Basra. But it would be downright weird if Badr were not deeply involved in Najaf security. And the big difference with Basra is probably that SCIRI/Badr is in political control of Najaf, so that politics and security are in sync, whereas in Basra the governing council is diverse and SCIRI is not in control, while police with a Badr Corps background are a major group.

The Association of Muslim Scholars, a hard line Sunni clerical organization in Iraq suspected of links to the guerrilla movement, has threatened to pull out of the Cairo Agreement reached in November over what they claim is continued Shiite use of death squads against Sunnis. Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi showed a picture of Sunnis killed, he said, by the Scorpion Brigade of the Ministry of Interior. These special police units are thought to be heavily infiltrated by the Badr Corps, a paramilitary force orginally trained by Iran and connected to the (Shiite) Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading party in the country.

Trevor Royle of the Sunday Herald in the UK talks great good sense about the drawbacks of Bush’s “fight until victory” applause line, in the light of military and political realities on the ground. Some British sources are saying that the situation in Basra is worse (more oppressive?) than it had been under Saddam, and 80 percent of the police in the city of a million and a half are not under the control of the police chief, but rather of local militias.

These photographs from Iraq during the past month, of a sort which typically are deliberately not carried by US newspapers or shown on US television, underline Royle’s argument. [Note: I explicitly do not endorse the captions or other text at this site, and am simply pointing to the photographs themselves.]

Gen. Shaikh Muhammad Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, has called for a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The Gulf states are extremely sensitive to what happens in Iraq, and are generally positive in their view of the US. This statement is the first of which I am aware wherein an important Gulf figure has talked about withdrawal. The UAE is not very centralized, consisting of several emirates under an umbrella government, so I don’t know to what extent the crown prince is representative of thinking among the emirs. But the speech does seem to be a straw in the wind. The Gulf states, with their oil and gas windfall, would potentially be in a position to offer Iraq a good deal of help with development if the guerrilla war could be tamped down. And they would know that such help was in their own interests.

Gordon Prather has a chilling piece at on the further plans for wars being foisted on the American public by the Neoconservatives (he rightly calls them “Neo-Crazies” at the American Enterprise Institute, which is the main bastion of Likud Party ideology in the United States.

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