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Tilting at Windmills

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September 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SISTANI BOWS OUT?....Via Juan Cole, the Telegraph claims that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has been a moderating influence on Iraqi politics for the past three years, has basically given up:

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.

"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."

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.

....Ali al-Jaberi, a spokesman for the cleric in Khadamiyah, said that he was furious that his followers had turned away from him and ignored his calls for moderation.

....He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani's decision. "He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him," he said. "After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad."

I don't have the chops to figure out just what this means, but every possible interpretation seems to be negative to one degree or another. In any case, given Sistani's role in Iraqi politics, this seems like a noteworthy development.

UPDATE: Eric Martin has more.

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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shorter sistani: 6-more months are we are home free!!

Posted by: thisspaceavailable on September 5, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Now who is this Sistani fella again?

Posted by: George W. Bush on September 5, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

It's not that hard to figure out: it makes al-Sadr the most important political/religious figure in Iraq. Which means our choice of "winners" in Iraq now boils down to the following: a toxic mix of Sunni insurgents, Baathists, and Al-Qaida types -- or the Iran-backed Mahdi Army. Great choices.

One of these days, the Iranian Ayatollahs are going to fire Ahmadinejad and realize that stability in Iraq is their policy of choice. The Iraq chaos is helpful to them right now...since it is allowing the most brutal Shiite leader (al-Sadr) to rise to the top of the heap. Once al-Sadr consolidates power (himself or through governmental proxies), however, Iran can settle things down and start enjoying the many perks of leading a Shiite superstate that controls about half of Middle Eastern oil. Exclusive oil contracts with Russia and China will follow and life will be good.

Sure, there is the messy business of the Iraq civil war and the whole UN nuclear flap to get over. But these things will pass. They just need to be patient and eventually George W. Bush's polices will pay off. And the Iranians will laugh and laugh at Bin Laden's foolish belief that Bush's policies would benefit HIM the most.

Posted by: owenz on September 5, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Sistani is a pretty smart politician. If he's bailing, it's because he isn't being listened to any more and he doesn't see any way to avoid a civil war. Since he doesn't want to be held responsible for that war, he's washing his hands of the mess.

Posted by: freelunch on September 5, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously, this is very bad news for those of us who favor diplomacy and negotiations. Maybe for the neo-cons that are only interested in the US ability to control the natural resources in the area, this is good news. The more the Shia on Shia and Shia on Sunni deaths that result the less Iraqis there are for US troops to fight.

I remain incredibly amazed (why?) at the gross incomptence of the Bush admin. Then again maybe the above explains that they are not incompetant.

Posted by: Chief on September 5, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I agree it's bad news, but an equally important development was that people were increasingly ignoring him.

Posted by: republicrat on September 5, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, in the interest of balance, I will say this: the Telegraph's article hardly supports Eric Martin's contention that Sistani "announced" his retirement from Iraqi politics. The article quotes anonymous Sistani "aides" about the so-called retirement -- and a Google News search of "Sistani" shows that the Grand Ayatollah was, in fact, pestering the Iraqi government about creating stability this weekend. Hardly the unilateral withdrawal from public life that the Telegraph would have us believe.

All of this is not to say that Sistani hasn't been replaced by al-Sadr as the most powerful political Ayatollah in Iraq -- because he surely has. Backing the U.S. at the start of the invasion was bound to hurt his influence at some point. But this talk of "retirement" seems a bit premature. Old Sistani may still have a few suprises in his bag of tricks yet...

Posted by: owenz on September 5, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

SISTANI BOWS OUT?

Good job. The defeat of the Shiite Sistani is a devastating blow to the Islamofascist terrorists in Iraq because he's one of their most prominent members. Sistani's ally Shiite Islamofascist Sadr will see this. This will cause him to stop attacking American and Iraqi troops leading to a large scale drop in the violence in Iraq. Not only that, but the Shiite Islamofascist terrorist group Hezbollah will see this as a defeat for the Islamofascist movement which will cause them to stop launching terrorist attacks on Israel.

Posted by: Al on September 5, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

I remain incredibly amazed (why?) at the gross incomptence of the Bush admin. Then again maybe the above explains that they are not incompetant.

Just as they "incompetantly" let Zarqawi bomb one Shi'a Mosque after another for months just when Iraq was becoming united...in opposition to the occupation.

Posted by: Boronx on September 5, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Chief, how does the imminent collapse of the never-strong center help even the neo-cons?

The insurgent opponents to the US occupation have shown that they can keep the US from ever exploiting Iraq's natural resources and our government, neo-cons at the forefront, is doing its best to alienate the rest of the energy producing countries in the world. The US has less influence over world energy resources and policy than it did before the neo-cons made their self-destructive attempt to control it.

As the European colonialists learned throughout their occupation of various parts of the rest of the world, occupations are only possibly profitable if there are no ongoing insurgencies or wars of liberation. The ones in Iraq seem to be just getting started.

Posted by: freelunch on September 5, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I don't have the chops to figure out just what this means, but every possible interpretation seems to be negative to one degree or another.

Ya think so?

Posted by: klyde on September 5, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that al-Sadr is the Shia leader in Iraq least invested in the idea of a Shia superstate led by Iran. Isn't his Madhi Army fighting with Iraqi government troops who are backed by US air power? His family stayed in Iraq, resisted Sadam and were slaughtered for their trouble. While his father and brothers were being killed the entire leaderships of the DAWA Party (Iraqi Interior Ministry) and the SCIRII were living large under the mullahs in Iran and fighting on Iran's side in the war.

Perhaps I've missed some crucial point but I don't see how any of this makes him an ally of sistani or a lackey of Iran.

Posted by: klyde on September 5, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Civil war.

America will now have to withdraw eventually and Iraq will remain in chaos for sometimes. Turkey and Iran will jockey for defacto control of various oil fields...forcing US forces to stay on the ground in those regions to prevent other nations from controlling the oil resources of Iraq. Not sure what the UN will try to do but basically, it doesn't look good on the ground for anyone involved at this point. That's probably the only thing holding back all out civil war at this point--I mean, that's what we are being led to believe anyways. Ask Rumsfeld for an update.

Posted by: parrot on September 5, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Mission accomplished...Smoke em out, dead or alive...No cutting and running...building democracy...etc....etc....

Posted by: A Broken Conservative Record on September 5, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

and freedom is on the march once again

Posted by: mudwall jackson on September 5, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Mission accomplished...Smoke em out, dead or alive...No cutting and running...building democracy...etc....etc....

Yes, it is a broken record, but the amazing part is that even something as feckless as cutting and running has now become a better option than George Bush's Incompepalooza with the annoying hit: "Stay the Course". All it takes is a sensible plan of scheduled departure and a willingness to make it absolutely clear to the Iraqis that they are responsible for and control their own decisions and their own problems. So far, Bush has been unable to handle either.

Posted by: freelunch on September 5, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

WWMD - What would Mohammed do? Well, I don't think he'd clam up.

Not very Allah-like of Sistani. Maybe a large contribution to his cleric-istry would draw him back out(?).

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on September 5, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

parody Al, well done. (I suspect it's kevin)

Posted by: benjoya on September 5, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

broken record....

turn the corner...

last throes....

Posted by: thisspaceavailable on September 5, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what knots the neocons are going to tie themselves into to justify the occupation of Iraq now that the need for oil may have been alleviated:

The prospective yield of the area, called the lower Tertiary, could approach six billion barrels of oil...Chevron said the well, known as Jack #2, and located 270 miles southwest of New Orleans, produced a sustained flow rate of more than 6,000 barrels of crude oil per day in a production test.

So with the faulty reasons given for the invasion of Iraq including WMD, al-Qaeda links, 'spreading democracy', and now control of the world's oil supply effectively dismissed, what reasons remain that justify US presence in Iraq? Containership of Iran? Funneling our taxes to Halliburton? Generating enough fear come election time?

What?

Posted by: grape_crush on September 5, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

I agree it's bad news, but an equally important development was that people were increasingly ignoring him.

exactly. the former is evidence of the latter. sistani's problem is that he isn't a theocrat. he's said as much since the war started. al-sadr feels differently and, as owenz points out, al-sadr gains most from sistani's disengagement, such as it is.

Posted by: benjoya on September 5, 2006 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Stand up when they sit down.
Sit up when they stand down.
Cut and run when they turn the corner.
Freedom's on the march when Democracy stays the course.
Some say we should fight 'em over there so they won't hate our freedoms over here.

One of these has to work.

Posted by: GWB on September 5, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

If Iraq were a secular country, I would say the Ayatollah has thrown in the towel and given up on guiding secularists. Unfortunately, Iraq is a sectarian country and I think the Ayatollah has given up on trying to stop the cycle of retribution that has evolved into civil war. It means a lot more people will be killed in order to determine political dominance in the new Iraq.

Posted by: Hostile on September 5, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Even Sadr is in the same position.

Militias related to him have been hitting government troops repeatedly - and he's repeatedly disavowed militias who've not followed his intructions to work with the government.

Can it be a civil war if there's no leaders opposing the government, just random mobs fighting each other?

Posted by: Crissa on September 5, 2006 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

The sooner we pull out, embassy and everything, the sooner Iran can either stabilize the situation or get caught in its own mousetrap.

Posted by: cld on September 5, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

freelunch,

The neo-cons do not give one whit for any Iraqi life, nor for any million Iraqi lives. No such thing as a democracy in Iraq. Neo-con plan must be to allow a civil war to go on till both sides are exhausted, the US has lost another 15,000 KIA and then try and negotiate with the winner for the natural resources.

Posted by: Chief on September 5, 2006 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

I thought they was all Muslims!

Posted by: George W. Bush on September 5, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

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