Names and faces will be withheld to protect the guilty
From the Los Angeles TimesÂ today:
In a move to separate mosque and state, the Iraqi government said Thursday that Islamic houses of worship should be off limits for campaigning in provincial elections scheduled for the fall.
Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh also said that photos of anyone but the candidates would be banned from campaign advertising.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s administration issued the recommendations in the hope of preventing a repetition of the use made of the country’s revered religious figures in the 2005 election campaign.
Shiite Muslim political slates plastered their campaign literature with images of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most influential religious leader, and some mosques sent out cars with loudspeakers promoting candidates.
. . . Even before the announcement, Iraq’s religious leaders appeared to be voluntarily backing away from the practice. Sistani this week prohibited the use of his name or image by any groups.
Of course, if Sistani’s edict came before the Maliki government’s ruling, it’s pretty clear that this is less a matter of “separating mosque and state” than it is of complying with the grand ayatollah’s wishes.
Given the well-deserved flak Sistani & Co. have received from ordinary Shiites for their unsubtle 2005 endorsement of a government that has turned out to be largely corrupt and incompetent, it’s no surprise that they would seek to step back this time around so as not to tarnish themselves any further. Â
It’s also in keeping with the grand ayatollah’s tendency to involve himself only when necessary — the national elections determined not only who would try to run the country but who would write the new constitution, so the victory of a Shiite-dominated slate was very important to him. Â Even in previous voting, though, he allowed the various factions within the alliance to compete with each other on a provincial level.
Note that the ruling was phrased in way that also banned Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement from using his image to identify candidates that it supports. Â I’m not sure I believe his loyalists’ claims that they endorse the decision, but in a way I guess forcing them to operate below the radar could help to protect them (given the ongoing U.S./Iraqi government crackdown that has already blocked the Sadrists from contesting the elections directly). Â
If Mookie’s grass-roots support is as genuine as it’s purported to be, then his people should still be able to communicate to voters who he’s backing… as will the Shiite religious hierarchy through its extensive local networks. Â They’ll just be less visible and thus a bit harder to blame, that’s all.