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.
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!
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!
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.
Yes, George, this is what comes of leaving the planning up to God. Thanks be to God!
Masha'Allah (as Allah willed).