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Ayatollah Ali Muhammad al-Sistani
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the prime marja, or spiritual reference, for Shias everywhere.
He is one of only five living grand ayatollahs and the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq.
English Language Biography On Sistani's Website:
The liaison office of Ayatollah Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Seestani in Europe and USA
Al Jazeera: Profile:
May 2003: A Guide to Iraq's Shiite Clerics
Ali al-Sistani, 72, is the official religious leader of Iraqi Shiites and the most respected scholar in the holy city of Najaf. Like al-Sadr, al-Sistani controls a powerful faction at the Kawza Seminary, but because he believes that religion and politics shouldn't mix, he does not manage a political power base like al-Sadr's or al-Hakim's. Nevertheless, many imams throughout Iraq, especially the more moderate ones, are considered loyal to al-Sistani. (And despite his apolitical bent, al-Sistani does permit these local religious leaders to help organize social services.)
Al-Sistani and al-Sadr are no longer on speaking terms. The split began when a group of men claiming to be al-Sadr's followers surrounded al-Sistani's house after the April 10 murder of moderate cleric Abdel Majid al-Khoei (see below). The current al-Sadr's father, who urged religious intervention and rebellion in Baathist Iraq, was consistently at odds with al-Sistani, who preferred a passive approach.
Al-Sistani has been loath to appear in public since the end of the war. Because he prefers to stay out of the political sphere, al-Sistani isn't looking to help America build a new Iraq with a strict divide between mosque and state. In fact, he'd rather not be involved with the United States at all. But local clerics and international commentators alike have taken his silence as an implicit rejection of an Islamic theocracy.
Jan 2004: Who Will Stand for Iraq’s Shiites?
What are we to make of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s call for general elections, then his demand that the demonstrations he had called be stopped or, more accurately, suspended? At the height of debate over federalism (which the Kurds were first to propose on the floor of the Iraqi Governing Council), and at the height of discussions over the practical meaning of federal administration (as proposed by the Nov. 15 agreement between U.S. Presidential Envoy to Iraq L. Paul Bremer III and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani), Al-Sistani broke his silence, startling the whole world by raising the subject of general elections. Many failed to predict how far he’d be able to push his demand.
Jan 2004: Behind Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Tactics
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is not expected to escalate his position to the point where he might issue a fatwa calling for jihad and armed resistance, since he does not believe in wilayat al-faqih [the right of Islamic jurists to rule].
Nevertheless, Al-Sistani has enough experience and knowledge of the fragility of the Iraqi scene to acknowledge the diversity of Iraq and of the Shiites themselves. He is also careful to be in constant dialogue with the Iraqi Governing Council. The essence of Al-Sistani’s position is that the Iraqis do not need to resort to violence to acquire their rights as long as they have peaceful means available to them. But should these means no longer be available, then other means, including armed resistance, should be sought.
The religious figure, after consulting and meeting with the Governing Council, has insisted on holding elections. This initiative seems to be the result of a hidden agreement between the two sides. In order to ensure Iraq’s future sovereignty and independence, Al-Sistani has also urged a bigger role for the United Nations. [Ambassador] L. Paul Bremer III [the U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq] received the news with dismay, because he believed that the United Nations had left Iraq of its own free will. [U.N. Secretary General Kofi] Annan, on the other hand, welcomed the initiative and invited the Governing Council for a meeting in New York in the presence of a suspicious Bremer.
Jan 2004: The Mullah Behind the Curtain
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's brand of Shiite democracy may be George W. Bush's best hope for transforming Iraq—and the Arab world
March 2004: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani: The real face of power in Iraq
He is seldom seen in public. He does not do TV interviews. He communicates only through written edicts or through lower-ranking members of the network of scholars who study the Koran and Islamic law in the provincial town of Najaf. And yet the 75-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani is undoubtedly now the most powerful man in Iraq. Revealingly it has taken almost a year for George Bush to wake up to that fact.
March 2004: Sistani May Issue Edict Against Iraq Power Transfer
KUWAIT - Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric may issue a religious edict declaring the June U.S. transfer of power to Iraqis illegal if an interim constitution article is not amended, a close aide said in remarks published on Saturday.
"If article 61 of the interim constitution is not changed, Imam (Ayatollah Ali) al-Sistani may issue a fatwa declaring illegitimate all those (Iraqis) to whom power is transferred in June," said Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Mohri.
Sistani "may also order the Iraqi people to protest or carry out major popular demonstrations and sit-ins in all Iraqi cities," added Mohri.
The Kuwait-based aide to Sistani did not elaborate on the changes to article 61 wanted by Sistani.
Sistani had complained that veto guarantees enshrined in the constitution could constrain the power of the Shi'ites. He also says a proposed three-person presidential council, comprised of a Shi'ite, a Sunni and a Kurd, is a recipe for religious and ethnic squabbling. Mohri's comments, made at Friday prayers in Kuwait, were carried by Kuwait newspapers on Saturday.
The interim constitution and how to transfer power from U.S. occupation forces to a sovereign Iraqi government has been a subject of intense debate among Shi'ites, who comprise Iraq's largest ethnic group and were oppressed for decades under ousted former President Saddam Hussein's ruling Sunni minority.
The U.S.-appointed Governing Council signed the interim constitution at the start of March despite several delays and over the objections of Sistani. Washington has been pushing for progress on the constitution and the make-up of a new government in order to meet a June 30 deadline to hand over sovereignty.
Mohri also urged the United Nations and the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority running Iraq not to disagree with Sistani, "or else there will be pandemonium in Iraq, and protests and chaos will be widespread."
Earlier this month, Sistani in a letter urged the United Nations not to endorse the interim constitution, raising a potentially grave obstacle to U.S. plans to hand power to Iraqis.
"Imam Sistani has decided not to meet with United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi until after declaring illegitimate the interim Iraqi constitution which divides Iraq," Mohri said.
April 2004: Sistani calls for calm after Najaf clashes
NAJAF, April 05 (Online): The spiritual head of Iraq’s Shia majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called for calm on Sunday following deadly clashes between coalition forces and followers of a Shia leader, a source close to Sistani said.
"The Ayatollah has called on the Shia demonstrators to remain calm, to keep a cool head and allow the problem to be resolved through negotiation," the source said. "Ali Sistani also called on the demonstrators not to retaliate against the occupation forces in the event of an aggression," he said.
Nevertheless, the revered cleric believes "the demonstrators’ demands are legitimate," and "condemns acts waged by the occupation forces and pledges his support to the families of the victims", the source said.
"There is no use for demonstrations, as your enemy loves to terrify and suppress opinions, and despises peoples," Sadr said in a statement distributed by his office in Kufa, south of Baghdad. "Terrorise your enemy, as we cannot remain silent over its violations," he said, although it was not clear whether Sadr was literally calling on his followers to resort to violence
4/17/2004:More than 2500 US troops surround the city, primed for an attack to capture the renegade imam Moqtada al-Sadr. But the spiritual leader of all Iraq's Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has told them he has "drawn a red line" around Najaf.
It is a classic Iraqi power play. Ayatollah Sistani has brought the rambunctious Sadr to heel, so now he will protect him against a US threat to capture or kill the headstrong young imam, who is wanted on murder charges.
The implicit deal Ayatollah Sistani is offering the US is that it should back off in the face of his defusing a Shiite uprising that risked all-out war between the US and the majority Shiites.
4/19/2004:Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has refused to sanction the entry of U.S. forces into Najaf, and he has publicly warned the United States about crossing a "red line" that will inflame Shiite public opinion, not only in Iraq but from Pakistan to Lebanon. The fallout is likely to make U.S. objectives in Iraq and its surrounding region more difficult to realize. It will instead cause instability, violence and anti-Americanism in quarters where such tendencies have so far not been evident
TEHRAN, April 23 (AFP) - An influential Iranian hardliner, Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, Friday praised resistance to the US-led occupation of Iraq, but in the moderate form of leading cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
"We must praise the Iraqis who resist, especially the residents of Najaf," the central Shiite Muslim holy city, said Janati, the head of Iran's powerful Guardians Council, at weekly prayers in Tehran.
5/5/2004:TONY JONES: What are your Shiite religious leaders, men like Ayatollah Sistani, saying about this abuse in the prisons, particularly when some of the worst offenders appear to have been women?
DR HAMID AL-BAYATI: The religious establishment condemned these violations and all religious parties issued a statement condemning what happened.
However, as I said, this is not enough.
We would like to see measures taken to assure the Iraqi people that nothing like that will happen again.
5/6/2004:Najaf (Iraq), May 6 (Reuters): US troops attacked Shia militia forces around the Iraqi holy city of Najaf today, seizing the local governor’s offices and killing 41 fighters, a senior official in the US occupation authority said.
In what seemed a broad move against insurgents across southern Iraq, US tanks moved unopposed into the centre of the nearby holy city of Kerbala, destroying offices used by the Mehdi Army militia of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Eyewitnesses reported fierce battles in and around Najaf and the nearby town of Kufa. One saw US tanks at the governor’s building on Najaf’s main street. It was the boldest action yet against an insurgency launched a month ago by Sadr. Aged about 30 and with a following among mainly young Shias, the cleric demanded Americans leave Iraq.
But rival Shia leaders have been increasingly critical of his stationing of thousands of fighters in the sacred city. He is wanted over the murder of another cleric in Najaf last year.
In Kerbala, residents saw US tanks blast away Sadr’s offices with heavy machinegun fire before taking up positions in the centre, about 500 metres from the main shrines. Italian forces said they fought Mehdi Army fighters south of Nassiriya, another Shia town.
Thousands of US-led troops have been encircling Najaf and have fought Sadr’s men elsewhere in recent days in the south.
Today, Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq, appointed a new governor for Najaf and denounced Sadr.
5/6/2004: Some 150 Shia clerics, including representatives of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a moderate who commands the loyalty of most of Iraq's majority Shia population, met at short notice in Baghdad on Tuesday to discuss what to do about Sadr.
Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, a leading Shia member of Iraq's Governing Council, then delivered a message from the leaders telling him to accede to an American ultimatum to disarm and disband his militia.