The “moderate” and much-lionized Sistani may be behind this — yet another indication that his support for the elections was just a gambit to gain more power for the Shi’ites: a gambit that seems to have utterly fooled the self-deluded proponents of a Nobel Prize for this man who considers unbeliever as unclean as excrement. From Reuters, with thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist:
NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – With four days left until Iraq’s leaders have promised a draft constitution, powerful Islamist leaders made a dramatic bid on Thursday to have a big, autonomous Shi’ite region across the oil-rich south.
The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) spelled out his demands to tens of thousands of chanting supporters in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf.
But minority Sunni and secular opponents, as well as rival Shi’ite Islamists in the coalition national government, swiftly poured cold water on an idea that fueled fears about sectarian battles over oil and Iranian-style religious rule in the south.
Some saw it as a negotiating tactic ahead of a self-imposed deadline on Monday to present the draft to parliament; a top Shi’ite negotiator, who dismissed the demand made by SCIRI chief Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, said 16 points were still in dispute.
It was unclear whether the row — and continued arguments over the extent of Islamic law — would delay delivery of a text that Washington hopes can help quell the Sunni Arab insurgency.
The crucial issue is the nature of federalism and the quest for wording to satisfy Kurdish demands for continued autonomy in the north, Shi’ite hopes for some new autonomy in the south, and also address concerns among Sunni Arabs and others in the center that they not be left with a rump Iraqi state deprived of oil.
“If we can deal with that … we should finish in the next few days so the draft will be ready on time,” Bahaa al-Araji, a senior Shi’ite on the constitution drafting panel, told Reuters.
“If there were Shi’ite and Sunni regions it would simply entrench sectarianism and destroy the unity of Iraq.”
U.S. diplomats, active on the sidelines of talks on what is a vital project for American interests, have clear reservations about SCIRI’s traditional ties to Washington’s regional foe Iran and make plain they will not stand for clerical rule in Iraq.
Hakim, a striking figure in clerical robes whose long exile in Tehran make him a figure of suspicion for many Sunni Arabs, was backed up in his demands at the Najaf rally by the leader of the Badr movement, formed in Iran as the armed wing of SCIRI.
“They are trying to prevent the Shi’ites from enjoying their own federalism,” Badr leader Hadi al-Amery told the crowd, which had gathered to commemorate the assassination two years ago by a car bomb in Najaf of Hakim’s brother, the former SCIRI leader.
“What have we got from the central government but death?” he said, recalling decades of oppression under Sunni-dominated rule from Baghdad, most recently by Saddam Hussein.
“We think it necessary to form one whole region in the south,” said Hakim, a major force in the coalition that came to power in January’s election, secured by U.S. military force.
But Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, an Islamist from rival Shi’ite party Dawa, said: “The idea of a Shi’ite region … is unacceptable to us.”
“It’s a bad idea,” Kubba told Reuters.
Yet despite the initial cold shoulder, it may be significant that Hakim made his announcement hours after meeting Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf on Wednesday.
Though Sistani, who rarely appears in public, has typically made no comment, his backing could be vital and some political sources close to Islamist thinking say there is broader support, well beyond SCIRI, for the autonomy project in years to come.