Monday, January 26, 2004

Sistani is Iranian? 

I wasn't aware that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is an Iranian citizen. But that's the jumping off point of this AP article about his influence in Iraq. Sistani's influence is probably unparalleled among the majority Shi'ite population, and his repeated demands for quick elections have put a kink in American plans. Thousands of portrait-carrying people have taken to the streets in support of Ayatollah Sistani's demands.

But how can a man who isn't even Iraqi be given a say in Iraqi domestic politics? Because he has thousands of followers who obey his every word. That's the nature of Iraq's Shi'a. They give their allegiance to prominent clerics, and Sistani is the BMOC.

Iraq is, of course, an ethnically and religiously diverse country, and the minority Sunni Arab population is starting to make an issue of Sistani's citizenship. An Iranian, they say, should have no role in shaping Iraq's constitution and elections. Some Shi'ites have joined in the criticism, including Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a minor Shi'ite cleric but equally revered as Sistani among his own followers.

On the face of it, I agree with the critics. An Iranian should have no role in shaping Iraq's future. But the fact is that Sistani's legions of followers aren't going away, and neither is their leader. For good or ill, Sistani must be given his due.
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