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Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s silence causes division among Shiites
by AsiaNews
Tuesday May 11th, 2004 10:19 AM
Najaf (AsiaNews) – At a time in which the entire world is condemning the torture of Iraqi prisoners, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani continues to ignore the matter and observe total silence. On his part there has been no condemnation, no fatwa or comment made regarding the controversy. Meanwhile Iraqi public opinion is beginning to ask questions.
The lack of position taken by the ayatollah is a mystery, especially after American troops entered Najaf, a town which Al-Sistani himself has considered off-limits.

The Iraqi press has written much about Al-Sistani’s silence, especially since the ayatollah is held to be the supreme and infallible spiritual head of Iraq’s Shiite population and respected by roughly 120 million Shiite Muslims worldwide.

AsiaNews has learned from Iraqi sources that there are ever-greater divergences of opinion between Imam Moqtada Al-Sadr and Ayatollah Al-Sistani, particularly after the rebellious Imam chose to take refuge in Najaf. Sources near to Al-Sistani say the ayatollah considers the imam’s action to be rash and provocative.”

The same sources said the Al-Sistani asked the rebel imam to return to Kufa and withdraw his armed militia from the city of Najaf.

Sheikh Abdel Hadi Al-Darragi, of Moqtada Al-Sadr’s office, condemned the ayatollah’s silence “as a form of complicity in the crime committed by the occupying (force).”

A Shiite ulema from Baghdad, Sheikh Jawad Al-Khalessi, has wondered why the international press always given so much importance to all of Al-Sistani’s actions and words while presenting him as the “highest Shiite authority”.

Al-Sistani’s silence has led his rivals to criticize the ayatollah who they complain “was assigned to such a position only to keep quiet in the most critical times”.

Suspicions of the ayatollah’s “political pureness” have been put ever more so to the test after he failed to condemn the assassination of the Hamas leader Al Rantissi.

Following the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Al-Sistani also kept silent, but then had to express condemnation after pressure was put on by Hassan Nassrallah, head of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

Al-Sistani’s supporters say the ayatollah prefers to say nothing, as he this is his wise way of keeping peace. They say he fears that any statement he makes might be erroneously interpreted “an invitation to open war…given the country’s very delicate situation.” They say the ayatollah is completely against such massive conflict breaking out again in his country.

Some analysts think that there is Iranian influence behind the criticism directed at Al-Sistani.

Just yesterday, the ayatollah issued a fatwa prohibiting the entry of foreigners from nearby countries unless they pass through official checkpoints and controls. His fatwa aims at putting a stop to the infiltration of destabilizing forces coming from Iran and Syria.