Earlier this week, the leading Shi’ite cleric in Iraq issued a fatwa that has largely gone unnoticed by the world media, but could have an impact on reconciliation and the political gridlock in Baghdad. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani forbade the killings of Sunnis by Shi’ites on Tuesday while meeting with Sunni clerics in an ecumenical council, and called for a renewed sense of Iraqi nationalism to replace sectarian divides in the country (via SCSU Scholars):
Leading Shiite cleric in Iraq Ali Sistani Tuesday banned the killing of Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, and urged the Shiites to protect their brother Sunnis.
Sistani bans the Iraqi blood in general the blood of Sunnis in particular. His announcement came during a meeting with a delegation from Sunni clerics from southern and northern Iraq.
The clerics are visiting Najaf to participate in the first national conference for Ulemaa of Shiites and Sunnis.
Sistani called on the Shiites to protect their Sunni brothers, according to Sheikh Khaled Al-Mulla, head of the authority of Ulemaa of Southern Iraq, noting that the Fatwa of Sistani would have positive impacts nationwide.
“I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shitte or a Kurd or a Christian,” Al-Mulla quoted Sistani as saying during the meeting.
One has to wonder why the only source for this development comes from the Kuwait News Agency, and not any of the other media, especially American media. NRO’s The Tank noticed it. Free Republic picked up the story, as did Threats Watch, but so far none of the mainstream American news agencies — or any others, for that matter — have reported this. A Google search over the past week comes up with only five hits.
Sistani’s fatwas have tremendous influence in Iraq, perhaps partly because he uses them so infrequently. Where his rival Moqtada al-Sadr frequently issued threats and exhortations to violence, Sistani has spoken out only occasionally — which makes his fatwas all the more powerful when they come. In this case, it has directly attacked Sadr’s legitimacy as the leader of a Shi’ite militia that had routinely attacked Sunnis, until Sadr got caught up in an intrasect war with the Badr Brigade. Sistani essentially told Iraq’s Shi’ites that Sadr’s organization not only has no reason to exist, but its existence offends Islam.
If we want to see ground-up reconciliation, this provides a major impetus towards it. With the Sunni tribes turning towards the US and Iraqi government for an opportunity to build a new Iraqi nation, this serves as a huge endorsement from the Shi’ites of that risk. Sistani has welcomed the Sunnis back to the nation after the sectarian strife that nearly tore it apart. The calming effects of Sistani’s fatwa should encourage more political progress as it further marginalizes the extremists of Sadr’s faction in the National Assembly and pushes moderates to the leadership.