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March 22, 2005
The Ayatollah Says, Get To Work

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has expressed his frustration with the political impasse between Shi'ites and Kurds in the new Iraqi assembly, and the influential cleric hopes a few well-chosen words will push both sides towards finally forming a coalition government:

The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq called late Sunday for quick agreement on a new government, expressing displeasure with the weeks of drawn-out haggling, which has begun to stir unrest in the Iraqi public.

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, appeared to be putting pressure on Kurdish politicians in talks on forming a governing coalition.

Even though he has no constituency in the mostly Sunni Kurdish territory, the ayatollah has proved to be the most influential authority in the new Iraq. He brought together the largest and most successful Shiite bloc in the elections, and he has been able to call up huge street protests and get voters to the polls.

A leading Shiite politician, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, told reporters that the ayatollah felt "discontent" over the delay and was calling for speed in forming a government "on the basis of maintaining equality for everyone." Mr. Hakim made his remarks in Najaf after meeting there Sunday evening with Ayatollah Sistani.

Sistani as much as anyone helped create the momentum for the brave turnout at the polls for the Iraqi people. Now, however, they're experiencing the more mundane and frustrating aspects of parliamentary democracy -- forming governing partnerships. Thanks to the two-thirds supermajority required to form the executive -- implemented to keep the Shi'a from completely dominating Iraq -- no one faction can dictate terms. Normally enough horse trading occurs to form coalitions rather quickly, but after decades and centuries of oppression, neither the Shi'a nor the Kurds appear very flexible in negotiations.

This has proved very frustrating for those with purple fingers, who risked their lives to elect these officials and have the right to see some sort of progress for their courageous action. Popular support for the democratic process threatens to wane unless the resultant representative bodies start taking some concrete action on behalf of their constituents. They want the water and electricity restored and the sewage lines rebuilt, not a ringside seat at gridlock. Sistani sees where further delays will lead: demand for a strongman to cut through the red tape and get things accomplished. Iraqi parliamentarians should take heed of Sistani's advice and make a deal quickly.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 22, 2005 6:22 AM

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