Will Sistani end the war in Iraq?

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According to an AP dispatch, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is inclined to issue a series of fatwas declaring what amounts to a defensive jihad against the occupying US troops. The Ayatollah’s spokesman Abdul Mahdi Karbala’i, recently said that Sistani was against the Maliki government offensive on the Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City.

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Take a very good look at this man. Should he as much as lift a finger, the American occupation of Iraq is finished. According to an AP dispatch by two Iraqi reporters quoting sources in the holy city of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top religious Shiite authority in Iraq, is inclined to issue a series of fatwas—formal rulings—declaring what amounts to be a defensive jihad against the occupying US troops. For the past five years, Ayatollah Sistani has at best tolerated the US occupation, unlike Muqtada al-Sadr, who has always stressed active resistance; and he has always wanted a deadline for US troop withdrawal. But you have to remember, already in 2003, Ayatollah Sistani had hinted he would lead a Shiite revolt against the Americans if that will be the case. And in 2004, he practically forced President Bush to hold an open election, a one-person, one-vote election in Iraq. For the past year or so, Ayatollah has been very quiet. So why the spectacular change of heart? And why now? There are many reasons. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis want troops out now, and that’s why the Sadrists are so popular in Iraq. Ayatollah Sistani, to put it mildly, does not like Muqtada al-Sadr. Sistani represents the pinnacle of the religious establishment. He appeals mostly to the middle classes—or what’s left of the middle classes in Iraq. Young Muqtada al-Sadr is viewed as an upstart. He appeals to the huge disenfranchised masses in Iraq. Ayatollah’s spokesman in Karbala, Abdul Mahdi ["kar-ba-LIE"], he recently said that Sistani was against the Maliki government offensive of the Mahdi Army in Basra and in Sadr City. Well, he had to be; otherwise the Shiite masses would seriously question his own authority. The Real News reported on the horror in Sadr City, where hundreds of civilians were killed. US corporate media virtually ignore it, but every Shiite in Iraq saw what it was all about. Sistani, with a religious man’s subtlety, may also be setting a timetable to the White House. In other words he’s saying: your imperial project of a cluster of military bases and cheap oil controlled by US multinationals is doomed. He is very much aware how the right in the US, still committed to the Project for the New American Century, is frantically trying to set up an attack on Iran. Ayatollah Sistani is Iranian. He was born in Mashhad in 1930. He lived in Iran for the first 21 years of his life. He knows the Dick Cheney war faction in Washington cannot attack Iran without Iraq as a rearguard base. He also knows the Bush years are ending. So he may be trying to imprint the true realities in Iraq to a possible Democratic administration. Sistani would have lifted his finger a long time ago, but he had been worried about the weakness of the Maliki government in Baghdad. He was also worried about the rising power of neo-Ba’athists and Sunni jihadists, including al-Qaeda in Iraq. Last year in Baghdad, I asked one of Ayatollah’s underlings why he didn’t issue the big fatwa. He said that from a religious point of view, Sistani couldn’t do it, because this decision would generate a lot of death and destruction. Well, Ayatollah Sistani will be 78 next August. For the moment, he may be issuing mini-fatwas, saying it’s acceptable to fight US troops in self-defense. But if he issues the big fatwa, in fact expelling the Americans from Iraq, his stature in Shiite Iraq, all over the Shiite world, and all over the Muslim world, for that matter, will be immense. More than 70 percent of Americans want the Iraqi war to end once and for all. Now they can possibly count on the one man who can actually make it happen.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.