Thursday, April 08, 2004

Sistani issues the long-awaited fatwa to keep calm

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani issued a fatwa late Wednesday to "resolve the latest developments in Iraq in a peaceful manner" in order to prevent anarchy and bloodshed. "We condemn the behaviour of occupation forces in dealing with the current events, and we also condemn any trespass against public and private property, or any other conduct that may disrupt security and obstruct Iraqis from their jobs in serving the people". Sistani also called upon political parties to work together in an effective manner to put an end to the "tragedy".

Why did he wait so long before issuing this fatwa? Was it to gauge coalition and public reaction? Was it to prove that only he has the last word in clearing up the mess?

The fatwa comes after 5 days of violence and unrest in several Shi'ite cities in southern Iraq, and while it is true that traditionally a fatwa from a living Grand Ayatollah is binding to his followers, that does not however apply to Al-Sadr's supporters who point out the more radical Grand Ayatollah Kadhim Al-Ha'eri (Iraqi exile Shia cleric operating from Meshed, Iran) as their spiritual leader, despite Al-Sadr's clumsy announcement two days ago that he will follow whatever Sistani and the Hawza in Najaf chooses for him, which I think is more probably a cry for help from the elders in Najaf.

Meanwhile, Sadr's supporters are still controlling Kut since yesterday's withdrawal of Ukrainian forces. Mahdi militiamen have taken over and looted CPA headquarters in the city as well as British Hard Group company division which was working on power station maintenance in Kut, killing it's manager who was a South African. Clashes are still reported from Sadr city, Nassiriyah, Mahhawil, and Karbala. Al-Mahdi militiamen have also resorted to kidnapping westerners, a British contractor has been kidnapped in Nassiriya, as well as several South Koreans, some of whom were released later. One of Sadr's aides stated that they had several foreign hostages to be exchanged with Mustafa Al-Ya'qubi who has been detained by coalition forces. Also two Israeli Arabs (??) (what the hell are Americans thinking?) were held hostage by a group Ansar Al-Din, they were shown on the Iranian Al-Alam tv, and were described as Mossad agents. Al-Jazeera displayed a short tape showing three blindfolded and handcuffed Japanese journalists (a woman and two men) being held by a group calling itself Sarraya Al-Mujahideen which threatened to burn them alive unless Japan pulls out its troups from Iraq in a letter addressed to 'our friends the Japanese people'. The Japanese base in Sammawa was also targetted by mortars. I found it particularly interesting that while Al-Jazeera displayed most of the tape, it did not display the part where the masked men held knives to the neck of the wailing Japanese woman while screaming "Allahu Akbar!". What? too hard for Arab feelings?

The situation in Ammara, Basrah, and Diwaniya seems to have settled down partially. The British have regained control over there, according to AYS who is blogging from Basrah (I hope he doesn't get stuck there). Spanish commanders met with tribal and religious dignitaries in Diwaniya who promised to disarm the people and maintain order in the city.

Preparations for the Shi'ite Arba'ieniya religious holiday are ongoing despite the unstable situation. Arba'ien means forty, and Shia commemorate the death of Imam Al-Hussein (Muhammed's grandson and Shia saint) again on this day which comes forty days after 10th of Muharram (the day Hussein was killed). I don't know where this Iraqi practice of remembering the dead after forty days of their death comes from. Anyway, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites have already started marching to Karbala on foot. Under the present circumstances and with the absence of IP and security forces in the city, I fail to see how a major terrorist attack is going to be prevented this time, another large scale attack against the Shi'ite pilgrims will probably inflame the already deteriorating situation even further.

a friend of mine told me today that he had been in contact with some clients who were members of Al-Mahdi Army, he said that they all received salaries from Sadr's offices throughout Iraq in US dollars. I asked him where he thought the money came from, he gave me a wry smile and said what do you think? "Iran?" I offered, and he nodded back in silence.

What troubles me is that the whole situation has so many parallels with the uprising against the British in 1920 (Thawrat Al-Ishrin). History repeating itself, it troubles me because that would mean that Iraqis have not matured as a people for the last hundred years. That one was sparked by the arrest of a prominent tribal sheikh by the British and then all hell broke loose. Shi'ite Ayatollahs and Sunni Imams called for Jihad and several cities in the south were 'liberated'. It lasted for a few months and resulted in 2000 British killed and thousands more Iraqis dead. After the revolt was crushed, and King Faisal installed as monarch of Iraq, there were supposed to be elections for a National Assembly (sounds familiar?) to write a constitution. Of course, the Hawza issued fatwas for Iraqis to boycott the polls. Abdul Mohsen Al-Sa'dun, prime minister at the time, responded by arresting all the Ayatollahs and exiling them to Iran on the grounds that they were Iranian citizens and had no right to interfere with Iraqi matters (Iraqis were tough back then). Public outrage followed this in most Iraqi cities but the government stood firm against it, so in the end Iraqis went about their business. After a few months, the exiled Ayatollahs pleaded the Iraqi government to return to Iraq (because they were not up to the competition with the other Ayatollahs in Iran) and that they would keep out of politics from now on, the Iraqi government welcomed them back, and that was that. The Hawza kept out of politics, until the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Al-Khomeini came to Najaf in the sixties and started poisoning the minds of the Iraqi Shia clergy. But that is a long story which I may write about in another blog since it is relevant to the current events in Iraq.