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Sistani Opposes Ceding Kirkuk to Kurdistan
by Juan Cole (reposted)
Saturday Aug 20th, 2005 11:38 AM
Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion

Sistani Opposes Ceding Kirkuk to Kurdistan
Sadrists Demonstrate against Federalism

Al-Zaman: On Friday, a major split became apparent among the Shiite clerics of Iraq on the issue of a federated state. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani himself maintained a studied silence on the issue. He is reported initially to have opposed the establishment of further confederacies among existing Iraqi provinces, but later said that such matters were best left to the elected representatives of the Iraqi people.

The Sadr Movement of young nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr brought thousands of demonstrators out in Baghdad. I saw footage on al-Jazeerah and I think the Telegraph is right to say the turnout was in the thousands. Al-Sharq al-Awsat says it is the largest Sadrist demonstration in many months. The rallies were held in the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City (east Baghdad), as well as Kadhimiyah and al-Bayya', all Shiite areas. Fattah al-Shaikh, a parliamentarian close to Muqtada, was among the leaders of the rally. He proclaimed that the latter wanted a united rather than a divided Iraq. He said the demonstration was for the sake of this principle, as well as in favor of the withdrawal of what he called occupation forces. A cleric addressing the crowd, Abdul Zahra al-Suwai`idi, called on the Sunni "Iraqi Islamic Party" to participate in the October referendum on the constitution.

(There was a similar anti-federalism demonstration in the northeastern city of Baqubah by a mainly Sunni crowd of about 1,000.)

In Najaf on Friday a rare meeting took place between Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Hakim is the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and of the United Iraqi Alliance coalition that dominates parliament. Both had earlier met individually with Sistani. Not much is known about the substance of these consultations, but Al-Zaman says that informed sources in Najaf maintained that the foremost subject was the constitution.

Sources close to Sistani said that he wished to enhance the importance of Islamic canon law in the constitution, but that he was cautious about the issue of provincial confederations. (Sadr and al-Hakim could both agree on Islamic law, but they oppose each other on the issue of federalism; Sistani seems to be leaning closer to Sadr's position on that issue.)

Some reports indicated that Sistani has formally come out against the incorporation of Kirkuk into Kurdistan, maintaining that the northern oil city is for all Iraqis. A press release attributed to the grand ayatollah's office read:

' "His Excellency [al Sistani] will not allow Kirkuk to be included in Kurdistan since it belongs to all Iraqis regardless of their national, religious and confessional background", said the Iraq news agency, quoting a press release from Sistani's office.

"We have to avoid the squandering of the country's wealth among people who give themselves the right to speak on behalf of Iraq, trying to split the resources according to their personal interests, regardless from where they come from - South or North", the release went on saying. '

Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud Osman [Mahmud Uthman] said that the committee charged with drafting the permanent constitution "will convene a meeting of all the blocs in parliament in an effort to resolve contentious issues with finality." He added, "Although affairs are moving slowly, they nevertheless do go forward, and there is a chance that everything will be finished on Saturday."

Kurdish member of parliament Faris Rowshkehray alleged that only two articles remained to be finalized, and that they were being discussed. One pertained to the distribution of natural resources extracted from the provinces, which are to be distributed in some proportion among province, central government, poor regions, and victims of the former regime. The other relates to "how the laws will interact with Islamic essentials."

The Kurds are playing hardball with the US Embassy in Baghdad. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, himself a secular Pushtun Sunni originally from Afghanistan, appears to be acquiescing in the inevitability that the Shiite majority will incorporate Islamic law in some way into the constitution. The Kurds, many of them secularists, traditionalists or mystics uninterested in religious canon law, oppose this move. They have now gone to the Western press in an effort to use US public opinion to pressure the Bush administration to back off support for the shariah or Islamic law in the constitution. But the fact is that all along Grand Ayatollah Sistani has been more influential on the course of post-Saddam Iraqi politics than has Bush.

[Just a piece of pure speculation: You have to wonder if Khalilzad has a special relationship with Grand Ayatollah Ishaq Fayyad, a slightly junior colleague of Sistani, who is also originally from Afghanistan and is extremely pro-American. Fayyad has played an important behind the scenes role in encouraging the US to curb the Sadr Movement, and unlike Sistani will talk to Marine officers. But he is even more insistent than Sistani on the implementation of Islamic law. Is there an Afghan connection running between the Green Zone and Najaf?]

Sistani's statement on Kirkuk could be seen as the introduction of yet another bargaining chip into these negotiations. Will the Shiite religious parties in the end blink on Kirkuk in return for Kurdish acceptance of Islamic law?

The Sunni Arab delegates were far more reserved, and continued forcefully to reject the idea of provincial confederations. Salih al-Mutlak, a Sunni Arab comittee member, warned that if the constitution contains the word "federal," it will be rejected by the provinces in the referendum scheduled for mid-October. (The constitution will fail if two of 18 provinces reject it by a 2/3s margin, and Mutlak is warning that the Sunni Arab provinces could well inflict such a defeat on it.)

Al-Hayat says that both Shiite and Sunni preachers in the mosques attacked federalism. The prayer leader or imam of Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad, Shaikh Ali al-Isawi, condemned "the separation of religion and state . . ." and "any article in the constitution that rends the unity of the nation (ummah) and squanders its riches." He added that Iraq "must be Arab and Islamic, and we must not accept any departure from the essential verities of Islamic law."

In contrast, Shiite politician Muwaffaq Rubai warned that if the constitution did not enshrine the principle of federalism, a civil war might ensue.

Shaikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala'i, the representative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Karbala, said in his Friday prayers sermon, "It is not important to finish the constitution on schedule. Rather, the important thing is to achieve the unity of Iraq, with regard to territory and people both now and in the future, and to avoid provoking a partition or breakup, and to preserve for us its Islamic identity." He added, "If the constitution does not bring these things in its train, then it will not be welcomed."

[Although Sistani has been silent on some issues, it seems obvious that al-Karbala'i is conveying the sentiments of the Grand Ayatollah here.]

The guerrilla movement in Mosul assassinated 3 Sunni Arabs outside a mosque, apparently for urging that Sunnis participate in the upcoming round of parliamentary elections. Al-Hayat says that they were workers for the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Guerrillas assassinated a city council member for the northern city of Hawijah Friday morning.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's apparent belief that Iran might be helping the radical Sunni fundamentalists in Iraq to kill Shiites is frankly nuts. But if there is anything more nuts, it is Iranian Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei's counter-charge that the US military is secretly blowing things up in Iraq and blaming insurgents, so as to create a pretext to stay in Iraq.

Hey, Ali, the US Department of Defense doesn't want to have to keep 138,000 troops in Iraq. They only probably want to keep a division there (say 20,000 men). So they aren't blowing up all those bombs (including the ones that kill US troops) so that they have to remain overstretched and suffering in Iraq!

And, Don, radical Khomeinist Shiites don't give bombs to radical Salafi Sunnis to use on Iraqi Shiites.

Jehosaphat, can we live in the real world here, folks? It's like the inmates run the asylum.

Michael Schwartz has more on the ironies of the benefits Iran draws from the US misadventure in Iraq.

posted by Juan @ 8/20/2005 06:30:00 AM   

§Visser on Shiite Separatism in Iraq
by Informed Comment (reposted) Saturday Aug 20th, 2005 11:39 AM

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Reidar Visser's "Shi‘i Separatism in Iraq: Internet Reverie or Real Constitutional Challenge?" [pdf] is now available online. It is a very serious piece of research and lays out the details of an important but little-examined political movement in the south.