Will there be democracy in Iraq, or Sharia? Or more jihad? Consider this: “It will be a grave mistake for America and the United Nations to pit themselves in a confrontation with Sayyid Sistani’s followers. They will lose greatly if they oppose the Shi’ite religious authorities.” An idle threat? Maybe, but the Shi’ites can’t simply be wished away. From Reuters, with thanks to Peter Rockas:
Supporters of Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said on Friday an assessment by U.N. officials that elections are not possible before June 30 could stir revolt against their U.S. occupiers.
The United Nations sent a team to Iraq to gauge differences between Washington, which wants to hand over power to Iraqis by mid-year without holding polls first, and the country’s majority Shi’ites, led by Sistani, who insist on a democratic election.
U.N. officials in Iraq said on Friday it would not be possible to organize polls before June 30, though they stressed it was important to hold elections as soon as security and technical arrangements permitted.
In Sistani’s home town of Najaf, his supporters threatened to rise up if they did not get their way.
“If the United Nations and Americans do not fulfil the wish of our religious scholars then fatwas (religious edicts) will follow,” Sheikh Rida Hamdani, a Sistani follower, said.
“At first there will be demonstrations or civil disobedience and finally armed struggle.”
“We are all behind Sistani, and Shi’ites all have arms,” Hussein Khalifa, a 43-year-old community elder, said.
“The ball is in the United Nation’s court…if they do not achieve our goals we will open a front against them. What is this talk that conditions are not ready for elections?…Are the only conditions ready the ones that allow Americans to move about and do what they want freely in Iraq?”
In practice, how Shi’ites react to the U.N. decision will be dictated by the orders from their religious leadership.
When Sistani, a recluse who communicates through aides, made it known he was demanding elections, tens of thousands of Shi’ites came on to the streets to demonstrate peacefully.
The U.N. top envoy in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, said after meeting Sistani he agreed time was needed to prepare elections, but there has been no official word on whether he would accept a view that elections be delayed beyond June.
If he does, it is likely his followers will do also. If he doesn’t, his supporters say violence will follow.
“The Shi’ites represent the majority and they have a strong attachment to their religious leaders, so any fatwa to fight America will be followed by all Shi’ites,” said Sheikh Ali Sweidi, a Sistani disciple.
“It will be a grave mistake for America and the United Nations to pit themselves in a confrontation with Sayyid Sistani’s followers. They will lose greatly if they oppose the Shi’ite religious authorities.”
Shi’ites make up 60 percent of Iraqis, and after years of oppression under Saddam Hussein, who came from the Sunni minority, feel it is time to assert their dominance.
Many supported the U.S. goal of toppling Saddam, but are against the occupation. Some said they thought Washington wanted to delay polls just so it could stay longer in Iraq.
“The elections will not take place because the United Nations and America will keep finding excuses for delaying them…for the Americans if the elections are held there would be no excuse for its troops to stay in Iraq,’ Sheikh Hassan al-Naji al -Mussawi said.
Are the elections being delayed because the Sharia supporters will win?