Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Iraq loses its voice of reason

By Sami Moubayed
Asia Times

"Sistani and Muqtada stand on different ground when it comes to Iran and the status of the Shi'ite community in Iraq.

Muqtada is greatly opposed to creating an autonomous Shi'ite district in southern Iraq, something that has been lobbied for by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Hakim is a creation of Iran and an ally of Sistani. His family is also the historical contender to Shi'ite leadership in Iraq against the family of Muqtada.

The young Muqtada believes in a united and Arabist Iraq. He pays little more than lip service to the mullahs of Tehran, arguing that they should not interfere in domestic politics. Both men have an ultimate goal of creating an Iran-style theocracy in Iraq. Sistani wants it influenced and controlled by Iran, while Muqtada wants it to be independent from Tehran. This brings the two men further apart when added to how they view the US occupation of Iraq. While both may be equally opposed to it, each deals with this occupation in a very different manner.

Some speculated that Sistani's journey to London at such a time was deliberate: a green light to the Americans to launch a full assault on Muqtada. If the Americans won, then Sistani would have rid himself of a noisy challenger in Shi'ite politics. If they lost (which was impossible) then he would get rid of the Americans.

What happened was a different story. During Sistani's absence, more fighting broke out. On his return, when Muqtada and his men were stranded in combat, Sistani stepped in at the last moment to end the crisis. He secured another ceasefire, a pardon for Muqtada, and his continuation in the political life of Iraq.

Sistani was sending Muqtada a message: "I saved you in a minute, and if I wish, I can also destroy you in a minute. Do not get too strong or overambitious. I am No 1 in the Shi'ite community of Iraq.""
Sistani faked a heart condition in April 2004 and took refuge in London (of all possible places). Informed sources at the time reported that Sistani's aids met with representatives of the US army in Najjaf. Sistani wanted the US forces to get rid of Muqtada and his Mahdi Army, even if it meant destroying Najjaf. Sistani made the excuse of "heart condition" to be in the safety of London, while US troops went about their killing and destruction in Najjaf. Sistani and his representatives did not want to be in town while this was going on, so all of them left Najjaf. Just when Muqtada himself was about to be killed or arrested, Sistani returned as the savior saint. After the destruction of 40% of Najjaf and the killing of several hundreds of the Mahdi Army, Sistani appeared to have saved Muqtada's life, but at the price of ending all armed resistance and the Mahdi army surrendering its arms. This is the real role Sistani has been playing in Iraq: opposing any armed resistance to the occupation, and instead providing tacit support of this occupation.

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