`Sistani tsunami` sweeps away Bush plan

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: George W. Bush, Iran, Iraq, Ruhollah Khomeini Views: 4740

The imminent historic rise of religious Shiite power in Iraq, with its inevitable linkages to Iran, is decidedly not what President George W. Bush had bargained for. In fact, he spent the last 22 months trying to prevent just such an outcome.

Yet, here is his administration sounding sanguine about the sweeping electoral win of the slate blessed by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. It is saying he won't establish mullahcracy in Iraq. 

It doesn't know that. It is only hoping so. Only a handful of people know what Sistani really wants. 

He won't allow any American near his home in Najaf, let alone take a phone call from Bush.

The ayatollah does not give speeches, or deliver Friday sermons. He rarely leaves his abode. He issues few statements and fewer fatwas. The latter tend to be metaphysical.

Americans are from one planet, ayatollahs from another. The latter live a simple life, eating mostly rice, yoghurt and honey. Calm, serene and unhurried, they live long. The four I have interviewed or observed at close quarters were in their 80s and 90s, and in fine form.

With the exception of Ayatollah Khomeini, who spoke with Bush-like bombast, senior Shiite clerics tend to be hermeneutical, leaving a trail of many meanings. They speak allegorically and take their time making a point, if they are making one.

Americans don't have the training or the patience for any of that, even if they can sit cross-legged on a carpeted floor for long stretches.

Bush first tried to install the secular Ahmad Chalabi as Iraqi strongman. When that failed, he settled for another bully, Iyad Allawi.

He resisted direct elections for fear that the "wrong people" would win. He allowed the vote only when he could no longer avoid it.

Now he must live with what's being called the electoral equivalent of the "Sistani tsunami."

What does the ayatollah want? It helps to know that he is a pragmatist who manoeuvres through the labyrinth of power and decision-making.

In April, 2003, when the invading American and British forces were hesitating to enter Najaf and Basra, he sent word that residents offer no resistance. But he did not extend a welcome. 

His refusal to see American envoys is his way of not endorsing the occupation. Similarly, he did not see an official Iranian delegation, lest it be seen as a nod to Tehran's interference.

While he blessed the wide-ranging Shiite coalition for the election, he never did formally endorse the slate. But he did not object to candidates waving his picture, and win by association.

What he did call for, clearly, was for the faithful to vote. They did in droves, risking their lives. 

He opposes the Iranian model, specifically the Khomeini concept of vilayat-e-faghih, supreme spiritual leader. He does not want clerics to run the government. That does not mean he is seeking a secular state. He wants an Islamic democracy.

When he compromised last year to have the interim constitution list Islam as a, rather than the, source of law, he also insisted that no law "contradict the universally agreed tenets of Islam."

He will be intimately involved in the writing of the permanent constitution. It remains to be seen where he comes down between the growing chorus of conservatives wanting old-style sharia and secularists who insist on retaining civil law.

On women, he has been liberal, even if he won't shake their hands. He urged them to vote, even if that meant ignoring the dictates of their menfolk. Nearly a third on his slate are women.

An accommodationist with the Sunni, Kurdish and other minorities, he will do his utmost to avoid a civil war.

His closest advisers say he wants the interior ministry purged of former Baathists who may be double agents, aiding the Sunni insurgency.

Above all, he will eventually dictate when Americans should leave Iraq.

Haroon Siddiqui is the Toronto Star's editorial page editor emeritus. [email protected]

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: George W. Bush, Iran, Iraq, Ruhollah Khomeini
Views: 4740

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Older Comments:
Interesting. BTW dont they i.e. the Ayatollahs look like characters out of a tolkien novel or movie. Those who know Lord of the Rings know what I am saying:) Wisdom, Patience and acceptance. We should have more like these. But like Tolkien's novels there are only a handful. Are there five?

I think it is still too early to tell what will things turn into. In my opinion, since the majority of the Iraqis are Shiites they chose their own government, democratically, in a sort of speaking. However, the Iraqis will have a pseudodemocratic Shia rule and a rush written Constitution that will be discarded when the real government will be ellected after the deplorable Bushite era, in a couple of years. Anything could happen, junta, coup d'eta, revolution, to name just some possible scenarios. The US troops will need to leave, the overstretched budget will have its repercussions upon the US economy, and the American people would really need to give up their own financial freedom in order to keep Iraq under occupation. Without a considerable army in the region, anything "anti-American" could happen in the blink of an eye. This is the catch of 22 for Bush, as for his successor he will find himself in the greatest paradox of his life!
Let's wait and see, just sit back, relax and watch the show and thank Allah that we are not the actors in this new Hollywood release!
Peace out!

Its funny now. Up till now we were successfully keeping the Shiites and Sunnis fighting each other by a few well placed bombs in shiite or sunni Mosques a little propaganda and next you know these hot heads are killing each other. Now its complicated. How do you make Shiites kill each other. We have tried by knocking of Harriri with help from Israel, but now the Syrians are not playing fair. They are forming alliances with Iran and have managed to uncover our little scam in Lebanon. So now the Shiites of Lebanon, Syria and Iran and oh God even Iraq are united against us and wise to our little bag of tricks. Damn !!

I think Bush is totally baffled. No matter what he does he ends up in a more confusing sitution than before. He thought with his guy in power Iraq would settle down. Not only did his guy not make it, but the Shiites won big time. Its no secretthat they don't like us and they just threw a wrench in the smooth Bush planning by confirming their allegiance to the Shiites in Iran who have formed a defense coalition with Syria. Now They are offering the same handshake to other Muslim countries that are suffering under our yoke of oppression. If this Islamic defense coalition expands, Bush's worst nightmare will be realized. Its one thing to drop bombs on guys with no shoes and a few AK-47s as in Afghanistan, but another when you are dealing with a coalition of seething Arab states with Israel in their gun sites, armed to the teeth , many with Russian missiles and some even with a surprise nuke warhead or two which would make a short work of Israel. Palestinians have alredy stated that if worst comes they are prepared to die if it means an eclipse of the state of Israel. I think its checkmate. Israel can fight one war but on 20 different fronts ? I don't thnk they can stomach that. They are too used to easy killings like little boys and girls who can't fight back. I can see Sharon reining in his rhetoric and his egging of the US to fight his wars. To really gum up things now Hugo Chavez and Lula upon the successful organization of their South American Axis against the US pact, are now offering to encircle the US with an offer to extend this coalition to Islamic states, China and Russia. A joint Muslm state coalition would probably completely change the global equation. A coalition of such magnitude which includes the major nuclear powers and Islamic states, man! Bush really screwed up this time, and Uncle Cheney is left scratching his head too. Maybe someone can jump start his Pace Maker. I have jumper cables in my car and would be happy to help him.

The Bushites have cleverly shifted the character of the conflict from a fight against the occupation to a civil war between Sunni and Shiites with the occupation aligned with the Shiites. This tactic has been a marriage of convenience between the occupation and Shiites. There will be two tests regarding sovereignty: oil and bases. They have made a deal with the UIA/SCIR: Iraq's oil and military bases for guaranteed political power. The Americans are able to put forward such a bargain because Bush still holds the strings in Iraq.

The US created this mess and now they think they can keep the Shia down?
The US gave Sistani what he wanted. Now they have to live with it.

The Shiites want to play ball. They don't to be perceived as anti-American so long they have Shiite rulers and Shiite country. Besides, it may kill two birds with one stone: 1) End of Sunni power base and 2) the elimination of as many of their perceived enemies as possible under the bogey of Baathist-al-Zarqawi-al-Qaeda-Wahabis, and other so-called "foreign resistance" from across the borders, in Fallujah and the other parts of the so-called "Sunni Triangle".

The danger for the Shiite leadership is that by associating themselves with an occupying power, they will -- even among many Shiites -"ridicule a national Iraqi position" and a betrayal by conspiring with the enemies of Islam. They have also put the country at risk by playing the Iranian-inspired sectarian game.

James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another "Mission Accomplished" moment. This flawed "election" isn't a Mardi Gras for Americans and they'll regret it if that is the way they treat it. The liberation of Iraq may still be a long way off and the end game may not be over yet!


Mr. Siddiqui is surprised that the Bush administration is taking the apparent win of al-Sistani in stride. I think that this is because he makes the same mistake as many foreign correspondents make regarding Bush's goals and motives. Maybe Bush really means what he has been saying for the last year. Maybe Bush really does want democracy to bloom in Iraq. It is possible that true democracy (that is a representative government that the Iraqi people choose) may also be in the best interest of the US. There doesn't have to be a disconnect between what is good for Iraq and what is good for the US.

I agree that al-Sistani's views may not be as transparent as most of us would like, neither, however, has he made a lot of promises he can't keep. Some of own politicians should do as well. So far it seems that he has the good of his people in mind. If he does the things outlined in the article, it would seem to agree with Bush's stated goals. Only if you believe all the motives assumed by the pundits, (He's here to steal the oil, He wants to take over the Middle East, He is a bloodthirsty devil, He hates Islam) would you assume that he would be upset about the election.

My fear parallels Mr. Siddiqui in that the influence from Iran may be too strong to resist. If al-Sistani is as wise as he seems to be, he will form a constitution that will allow free elections and peaceful change in leadership, not the theocracy of Khomeini.


Now, if President George W. Bush can just keep his hands to himself, he can claim to have made good on his father's promise to liberate the Shia. I suppose we'll see what we'll see - according to Allah's will of course.

Yes, George, this is what comes of leaving the planning up to God. Thanks be to God!

Masha'Allah (as Allah willed).

Well I am sure Ayatulla Ali Sistani will turn out to be a better option for Iraq, keeping in mind what Saddam had done to Iraq. Lets leave the rest to the faithful of the Ahlul Bait. After all the ones who rest there are supreme and around them does this universe truly rotate.May all the Shia's florish in the sothing light of the Fatimi dawat.