Baghdad bureau chief John Burns in the New York Times: reported by Kuwaiti newspapers on Saturday, according to a Reuters reportI mentioned in a comment on fubar’s post about Fallujah earlier today that rejection of the U.S. occupation was taking a less violent (but no less potent) form among the Shiites loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Here’s Anthony Shadid in the Washington Post Monday morning, explaining what I mean:
. . . .the vast network of Shiite Muslim mosques, religious centers, foundations and community organizations that make Sistani Iraq’s most influential figure has led a campaign to amend the constitution or discard it. Posters have gone up at universities in Baghdad and elsewhere, leaflets have circulated among prayer-goers and Sistani’s cadres — from young clerics to devoted laymen — have gathered tens of thousands of signatures on the petitions. Demonstrations are next, they warn.
. . . For the past week, they have gone to universities, to Shiite community centers known as husseiniyas, to mosques and door to door with the petitions, which describe the constitution as illegitimate and list objections that run from the document’s liberal definition of citizenship to the power of an unelected government to make lasting decisions.
Shadid goes on to describe the activities of a Sistani loyalist in Baghdad who has organized the collection of 90,000 petition signatures, which he has “scanned onto a computer disc and sent to Sistani’s office in Najaf”
on nearly a daily basis:
The poster the sheik read from has gone up in many parts of Baghdad. It bears a picture of Sistani, with flowing beard and turban, reading from a book. In large type, it asks, “What do you know about the Iraqi State Law for the Transitional Phase?” It was published by the Najaf-based Murtada Foundation which, like Awadi’s Ghadir Foundation, is among the handful of institutions that are nominally independent but under the loose supervision of the offices of Sistani and other senior ayatollahs.
The literature is ubiquitous — in husseiniyas and mosques, on the walls of universities and in markets. Qureishi, the sheik, had foot-high stacks of the group’s leaflets and interviews, piled next to blank petitions. At a mosque in a nearby neighborhood, banners along the walls copied the slogans: “Any law not ratified by a nationally elected group will not be legitimate.”
Although Juan Cole
has argued that Sistani wants to avoid the chaos of mass demonstrations, it’s hard to imagine that this Shiite version of the “Perfect Storm” is simply about “the holding of cultural and intellectual meetings to prepare the street for the coming phase.”
I think Sistani would just like to keep this “educational” campaign as far under the radar as possible so as not to spook the Americans into doing anything rash before June 30. When the Governing Council takes charge
, though, I suspect the ayatollah will have some surprises waiting for them.
Meanwhile, Anne Barnard in the Boston Globe wrote an article Monday with a darker view of the petition drive:
The petition, which is giving many Iraqis their first news of the interim constitution, is worded to play to many Iraqis’ deepest fears. It describes the law as “a tragedy” that paves the way for the United States to dominate Iraq’s future, encourages immoral behavior, and opens the door for Jews to take power.
The petition is being passed around Baghdad neighborhoods and colleges by men who say they will deliver the signatures to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a spiritual leader to millions of Shi’ite Muslims. Some Baghdad residents say they signed the petition for fear that they would otherwise be branded as collaborators.
. . . It is unclear whether the 73-year-old cleric, who does not speak to reporters, is personally responsible for the Baghdad petition, which is more inflammatory in tone than many of his official statements. But by invoking his name, the people behind the petition — who say they belong to various Shi’ite foundations and charities — tap into the reverence for a man whose word is law to many Shi’ites.
A resident of the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora said a man collecting signatures there was the son of the Ba’ath Party member who kept an eye on the neighborhood under Saddam Hussein. Now the same man says he represents the Hawza, Iraq’s network of Shi’ite religious schools. The resident, a Christian who asked not to be named, said he signed the petition out of fear.
So did another woman, also a Christian, who lives in the central neighborhood of Karada. “They said that my signature on this paper would prove my Iraqi nationality,” she said. “For my family, I signed it.”
This is an example of how even the seemingly moderate Sistani may in fact be paving the way to an Islamic theocracy
. As things develop, we’ll be keeping an eye on what “the coming phase”
really means to Sistani and his clerical allies.