Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

SISTANI'S FATWAS....Via Robert Farley and a bunch of other people, Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra of AP report that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential cleric in Iraq, may be moving in a worrisome direction:

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

....So far, al-Sistani's fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani....Between 10 and 15 people are believed to have received the new fatwas in recent months, the Shiite officials told the AP.

....It is impossible to determine whether those who received the edicts acted on them. Most attacks — except some by al-Qaida in Iraq — are carried out without claims of responsibility.

All the usual caveats apply here. The purpose of the fatwas is murky, the leakers may have axes to grind we don't know about, and it's a good idea not to overreact to daily news from Iraq.

That said, this ranks fairly high on the worry meter. As badly as the U.S. occupation of Iraq has gone, it would have gone way, way worse if Sistani hadn't cooperated with us. And for the most part he has, mostly by tolerating our presence and refusing to countenance the kind of active resistance favored by Mutqda al-Sadr. But these recent fatwas might be a sign that this is changing. Eric Martin:

Sistani is moving in this direction, at least partially, because of public sentiment and Sadr's ability to capitalize on his anti-American stance. Opposing the American presence is popular. That's not going to change any time soon.

But why now? There has to be some reason not just for the fatwas themselves, but for leaking their existence to the press at this moment in time. Maybe Sistani was feeling the heat from Sadr. Maybe after five years of waiting for us draw down, his patience has finally run out. Or maybe it was just a shot across the bow, a way of telling us that a long-term American presence is not in the cards.

There's no way to know for sure based on this single report. Still, it's probably not too much to say that if Sistani turns openly against us, our continued presence in Iraq will truly become impossible. He may have decided that if we're not going to set a timetable ourselves for leaving, he's going to set one for us. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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It's got to be good news!! For Rudy!!!

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on May 22, 2008 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

Do Iraqi politicians do political pandering? Cause this totally sounds like the kind of vague, hollow, big-stick talk an Iraqi-version of McCain would use to shore up support amongst easily agitated groups of his political supporters.

Posted by: A Different Matt on May 22, 2008 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Nope. Good news for...Joost!!

Posted by: wren on May 22, 2008 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

Since we're speculating, he may also have decided that he doesn't like the idea of US forces taking sides in Iraqi political conflicts -- as we are doing quite openly in militarily supporting Maliki against Sadr -- especially since (1) we're not exactly known for our understanding or subtlety, and (2) today's political conflicts could easily become tomorrow's civil war, especially if there's a rogue elephant loose among them.

Posted by: bleh on May 22, 2008 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

No One Could've Predicted This

Posted by: Horatio Parker on May 22, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

A US attack on Iran will be just the thing to trigger a full-scale Shiite uprising in Iraq.

Posted by: Speed on May 22, 2008 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Since Obama has taken so much crap for saying he'd meet with world leaders, why doesn't he say the first one he'd like to sit down with would be Sistani?

Posted by: loki on May 22, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Success in Iraq, the biggest foreign policy commitment of the American people in a generation, depends on the pronouncements of a Grand Ayotallah in Iraq. This is the McBush idea of defending America.

Posted by: stevedwight on May 22, 2008 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

What to do,what to do. Having Sistani tie a anchor around his feet and suciciding himself with a shotgun while on his sailboat? One car accident hiting a tree or going over a cliff(No skid marks)? Heart attack(He already had a fake? one)? Shooting himself in the head 2 or more times? Hanging himself? Cut wrists in bathtub? Sucide by Cop(Checkpoint guard)? Ooops ploting of a Hellfire missle? What to do,what to do.

Posted by: R.L. on May 22, 2008 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe he heard about McCain's hundred year plan for Iraq.

Posted by: Luther on May 22, 2008 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

I have trouble seeing this as ominous. Our occupation is doing neither Iraqis, nor Americans any good. The "moderate" Iraqis made the decision that they would tolerate it for awhile, as hopefully we can tamp down the internal conflicts. But I can't imagine that once the security concerns recede, that they won't want us out. If Sistani is in fact giving us subtle signs that we need to plan to leave, he is acting responsibly in my book. Whether we are smart enough to get the message in time to avoid real harm is another matter. That probably depends upon the outcome in November.

Posted by: bigTom on May 22, 2008 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

To echo what Different Matt says, isn't the "OK to attack Americans" opinion something like 80% in Iraqi polls?

Posted by: on May 22, 2008 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

The two main issues on voters minds are the economy and Iraq. We now know the economy is probably going to be flat or worse come election day.

Sistani is no idiot, he knows that an Obama presidency will lead to quicker troop withdrawals. If Sistani gets Iraq back on the front pages over the next six months, the Democrats could nominate Carrot Top and win.

(adjusting tin foil hat)

Posted by: Pavlov's Dog on May 22, 2008 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Seeing that as of right now; it seems that Iran is calling the shots in Iraq. It might be that Sistani is telling Iran, if push comes to shove, he will side with Sadr and the Iraqi people and not the Mullahs of Iran.

Posted by: Zygzee on May 22, 2008 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

But why now? There has to be some reason not just for the fatwas themselves, but for leaking their existence to the press at this moment in time. Maybe Sistani was feeling the heat from Sadr. Maybe after five years of waiting for us draw down, his patience has finally run out. Or maybe it was just a shot across the bow, a way of telling us that a long-term American presence is not in the cards.

It's the last one. They know we are going to be leaving soon and we *are* unpopular there, so whoever gets on the anti-American bandwagon now will look better when we do leave.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 23, 2008 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

Because of public sentiments?

Oh, rest assured of that. The US has razed Sadr city, a Shia stronghold, from the air and with artillery, doing to that what the Germans did to Warzaw.
And you wonder why Sistani feels he's being played for an idiot by the Americans?

As to the poster above. The term "resistance" is not propaganda. It's international law. And is why Rumsfeld powerfully resisted any attempt, by any member of the press, of using the term in interviews with him, when describing actions inside Iraq against the occupation. (And he wasn't willing to use occupation either.)

In international law, a resistance movement, when organized, can be recognized as the true representatives of a polity, when that polity is under occupation by a foreign power.

Do the math.

Posted by: SteinL on May 23, 2008 at 2:19 AM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that perhaps Sistani (a Shiite) is tired of the US arming and training the Sunni's in Anbar province. Such actions obviously increase the likelyhood of conflict when we leave--next year or next century--depending on US election.

Posted by: disdaniel on May 23, 2008 at 2:40 AM | PERMALINK

If nominated I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.

Posted by: Carrot Top on May 23, 2008 at 2:40 AM | PERMALINK

>"...resistance" implies that there is something to be resisted"

Ah yes... occupation by a foreign military power is something to be accepted. With half a million dead and their country in ruins, they should be grateful.

If it happened in the US I'm glad to know the neocons would be the first ones tossing flowers to the occupying troops.

Posted by: Buford on May 23, 2008 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's because of the announcement that Bush's going to put an Amusement Park in the green zone - whereby no Iraqi child, who can't even attend school would ever be able to enjoy this park, its intend ONLY for unbid contract people.

That would crack anyone's solve - in case anyone fails to notice how truly nasty Bush really is. All this unbid contracts are just giant war profiteering taxpayer gives aways.

al-Sistani must be thinking, "Oh may, what have I done aligning myself with this perverts of human interest." Can't hardly blame him either, as this war is really about oil, as Greenspan said as much, until he was threatened. Bush doesn't care about Iraqis and democracy - he never did care about anything the unbid contractors and their corrupt money schemes.

Posted by: Me-again on May 23, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Kinneret on March 19, 2010 at 3:45 AM | PERMALINK
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