Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dead Man Walking

I think we've been all been expecting, and dreading, this. I've written about it repeatedly recently:

Back on July 27th I wrote about the Statement issued by Grand Ayatollah Najafi covered in this article in Al-Zaman [Arabic]:

"the situation in the south of the country is coming very badly unstuck for the green zone government. In particular this statement by Grand Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi is ominous:

"We fear the coming of a day when we cannot restrain a revolution of the people, with all its unsavory consequences."

Al-Najafi is often thought to be second most important of the four Grand Ayatollahs living in Najaf with Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani being "primus inter pares" (the fifth Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Hairi lives in Iran.) Al-Najafi's office would not under any circumstances have issued that statement unless the Grand Ayatollahs (who act collegially) were of the opinion that their ability to restrain their followers was slipping. … … … ."

On August 10th I wrote this:

"It remains to be seen whether the Grand Ayatollahs already deeply concerned that their ability to restrain their followers is slipping will succeed in holding them back one more time. Should they fail the bloodbath created by the American occupation's policies in Iraq will pale into insignificance."

The Grand Ayatollahs have been desperately concerned about the situation in Iraq. They've been growing increasingly frustrated with the abject inability of the green zone government either to get a grip on the situation or to stand up to the Americans. In addition to that they've been desperately concerned that their authority amongst their followers - particularly the young, is slipping. Since the Samarra Bombing there have been repeated attacks on Shi'ite religious ceremonies, shrines, and pilgrims to say nothing of attacks such the al-Ula market bombing, the Jameelah market bombing and other market bombings or the American attack on Sadr City . All of these attacks have undermined the Grand Ayatollah's authority.

The funeral of the Pakistani and Indian pilgrims in Karbal Sept 2nd 2006 The funeral of the Indian and Pakistani pilgrims in Karbala. Note the size of the crowd. Juan Cole's posting today makes several very important points about today's news including on the significance of being buried at Karbala to the Shia devotees. As I was writing this posting news came in that Sheikh Hassan Mohammed Mahdi al-Jawadi al-Sistani's representative in Amara had been murdered by gunmen today. - mfi

Yesterday's meeting with the isolated and ineffective al-Maliki, and the attacks on Indian and Pakistani pilgrims in which eleven Pakistani and three Indian Shia pilgrims were murdered have been widely reported throughout the world particularly in Pakistani and Indian newspapers seem to have been the last straw. Grand Ayatollah Sistani has issued a statement in which he roundly rebukes the green zone government [Arabic language]:

"The government's failure to fulfill its missions and duties in ensuring security and order and protecting the lives of the citizenry creates an opportunity for unofficial forces to arise to fulfill that mission."

What al-Sistani is saying here is theologically impeccable - if the government fails in it's duty to protect the community then others will step into to do that task, implicit in this is that the government has lost its legitimacy.

But al-Sistani is saying other things as well and one of them is that he no longer believes his followers will obey further calls from him to hold back. This report in today's edition of the UK Sunday Telegraph makes grim reading. I suggest you save a copy of it for future reference.


"The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war.

Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.

[snip]

It is a devastating blow to the remaining hopes for a peaceful solution in Iraq and spells trouble for British forces, who are based in and around the Shia stronghold of Basra.

The cleric is regarded as the most important Shia religious leader in Iraq and has been a moderating influence since the invasion of 2003. He ended the fighting in Najaf between Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army and American forces in 2004 and was instrumental in persuading the Shia factions to fight the 2005 elections under the single banner of the United Alliance.

However, the extent to which he has become marginalised was demonstrated last week when fighting broke out in Diwaniya between Iraqi soldiers and al-Sadr's Mehdi army. With dozens dead, al-Sistani's appeals for calm were ignored. Instead, the provincial governor had to travel to Najaf to see al-Sadr, who ended the fighting with one telephone call.

[snip]

Hundreds of thousands of people have turned away from al-Sistani to the far more aggressive al-Sadr. Sabah Ali, 22, an engineering student at Baghdad University, said that he had switched allegiance after the murder of his brother by Sunni gunmen. "I went to Sistani asking for revenge for my brother," he said. "They said go to the police, they couldn't do anything.

"But even if the police arrest them, they will release them for money, because the police are bad people. So I went to the al-Sadr office. I told them about the terrorists' family. They said, 'Don't worry, we'll get revenge for your brother'. Two days later, Sadr's people had killed nine of the terrorists, so I felt I had revenge for my brother. I believe Sadr is the only one protecting the Shia against the terrorists."

According to al-Sadr's aides, he owes his success to keeping in touch with the people. "He meets his representatives every week or every day. Sistani only meets his representatives every month," said his spokesman, Sheik Hussein al-Aboudi.

"Muqtada al-Sadr asks them what the situation is on the street, are there any fights against the Shia, he is asking all the time. So the people become close to al-Sadr because he is closer to them than Sistani. Sistani is the ayatollah, he is very expert in Islam, but not as a politician."

Even the Iraqi army seems to have accepted that things have changed. First Lieut Jaffar al-Mayahi, an Iraqi National Guard officer, said many soldiers accepted that al-Sadr's Mehdi army was protecting Shias. "When they go to checkpoints and their vehicles are searched, they say they are Mehdi army and they are allowed through. But if we stop Sistani's people we sometimes arrest them and take away their weapons."

[snip] "

As I went through the Arabic language press today there was report [Asharq Al Awsat] after report [Aswataliraq] after report [Dar Al Hayat] after report [Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed ] of Maliki putting a brave face on things. I doubt if he believes it his own statements however. I don't expect him to last much longer, I doubt if he does either.

markfromireland

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