"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Monday, December 06, 2004

He's Making a List; He's Checking It Twice 

No, no, not Santa Claus - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful man in Iraq. While the Sunni minority is calling for a delay in Iraqi elections, reasonably fearful that their traditional power and influence will evaporate in the face of truly democratic elections, Sistani has been absolutely consistent in his insistence that elections must go on as scheduled. And, since Sistani is the most revered figure among Iraqi Shi'ites, his insistence carries great weight.

What I didn't realize, however, is that Sistani has been personally involved in shaping the course of those elections. Apparently, he has appointed a six-man committee to coordinate the efforts of Shiite candidates and parties. And today there have been two interesting developments surrounding that committee. First comes this, from the Khaleej Times:
Radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr has agreed to join an election list supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an al-Sadr spokesman said on Sunday.

A senior al-Sadr aide, Sheikh Ali Smeisem, told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa that negotiations between Sistani’s supporters and the al-Sadr movement had resulted in an agreement that its members would be included in the list....

Al-Sadr had led a rebellion against US and Iraqi forces in April and August which finally ended in mediation by Sistani.

Call me crazy, but I can't believe that the American commanders and civilian authorities who are allegedly in charge will be very pleased if their old nemesis al Sadr gets the Sistani stamp of approval; however, there is likely very little they can do about it.

Not that they won't try, of course. Consider this from AFP:
The man in charge of drawing up an electoral list backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, has been arrested by the US military, an aide said Sunday.

"American forces on Saturday arrested Mohammed Hashem al-Yehya, coordinator of the six-person committee set up by the Marjaiya (Iraq's highest Shiite authority) to supervise the drawing up of an electoral list with the backing of the ayatollah," said a Sistani representative in the holy city of Najaf.

"If he is not released, there will be serious consequences," said the source, giving no reason for Yehya's arrest in Baghdad.

So, here's my (rhetorical) question: Don't the clowns who are calling the shots ever get tired of whacking hornets' nests?

Anyway, when I saw these particular stories I clicked on over to Juan Cole's blog to see what he had to say, since he is almost certainly the best informed Western writer on the subject. Unfortunately, so far at least, he seems to have little to add. He reports the same two stories I have here, and mentions (without a link) that al Yehya has apparently been released, but otherwise even he seems to have little hard information. In any event, this is a story to watch as the scheduled elections draw nearer.




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