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December 23, 2006
Sistani Balks

The carefully-laid plans to form an ecumenical political coalition in Iraq hit a major snag today when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani refused to endorse it. Sistani wants nothing to do with any project that undermines the unity of Shi'ites:

Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric withheld support Saturday for a U.S.-backed plan to build a coalition across sectarian lines, Shiite lawmakers said, jeopardizing hopes that such a show of political unity could help stem the country's deadly violence.

Members of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition that dominates parliament, met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf after traveling to the holy city over the past few days. Al-Sistani holds no political post and rarely emerges from his home and adjacent office, but he has strong influence over Shiite politics.

Some members of the Shiite alliance have sought a coalition that would include Kurds and Sunnis, and sideline Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose militia is blamed for much of Iraq's sectarian violence. Lawmakers who attended the meeting with al-Sistani said the cleric opposed any move that would divide Shiites.

"There are obstacles in the face of forming this coalition, because al-Sistani does not support it. So we will work to strengthen the (Shiite) alliance," said Hassan al-Sunnaid, of the Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

This certainly comes as a blow to the US and the Coalition, as well to hopes of ending the militia war in Iraq. The only manner in which Iraq can come together as a nation is to move beyond sectarian divides, but Sistani's disagreement will prove a major stumbling block for any reconciliation.

Sistani's refusal comes after Moqtada al-Sadr agreed to return to the Shi'ite coalition, after walking out of the National Assembly earlier. Sadr found himself increasingly isolated after his stunt, and Sistani could have rendered him a political eunuch if the elder cleric had blessed the new coalition. His return to the Assembly appears to have headed off that disaster, at least for the moment.

What next? The various moderate parties will probably still try to form some sort of Iraqi equivalent to the Gang of 14, but they will find success elusive as long as Sadr and his Mahdi Army remain potent in the field. The US may have run out of options for Iraqis to marginalize the Mahdis, and it may take American force to put an end to Sadr's death squads.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 23, 2006 11:15 AM

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Key Shiite cleric opposes Iraq national unity plan BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Shiite lawmakers said Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric withheld support Saturday for a U.S.-backed plan to build a coalition across sectarian lines. The move jeopardized hopes th... [Read More]

Tracked on December 23, 2006 6:00 PM


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