The AP reports that Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has been issuing religious edicts, known as fatwas, “declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad”:
A senior aide to the prime minister, al-Maliki, said he was not aware of the fatwas, but added that the “rejection of the occupation is a legal and religious principle” and that top Shiite clerics were free to make their own decisions. The aide also spoke on condition of anonymity.
It’s difficult to overstate how essential Sistani’s support has been for the task of rebuilding Iraq, or how quickly the U.S. would lose what little legitimacy it still has there if Sistani were to indicate that U.S. forces were no longer welcome. If this report is accurate, it would indicate that he is leaning in that direction.
This could also represent the final nail in the coffin of the neoconservative fantasy of establishing an enduring military presence in Iraq, from which to project U.S. power throughout the region. The article notes that the shift in Sistani’s position “underlines possible opposition to any agreement by Baghdad to allow a long-term U.S. military foothold in Iraq — part of a deal that is currently under negotiation and could be signed as early as July”:
Al-Sistani’s distaste for the U.S. presence is no secret. In his public fatwas on his Web site, he blames Washington for many of Iraq’s woes.[…]
“(Al-Sistani) rejects the American presence,” [a Sistani representative] told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to media. “He believes they (the Americans) will at the end pay a heavy price for the damage they inflicted on Iraq.”
I think it’s possible that Sistani is responding to pressure from Sadrists who condemned him for his silence during the U.S. and Iraqi army siege of Sadr City. It’s also striking (and perhaps suspicious) how closely the language of these edicts appears to accord with what Muqtada al-Sadr himself has advocated and prohibited in terms of resistance to foreign occupiers. Contrary to some reports, Sistani did not advocate the disbanding of the Mahdi Army, but rather simply did not rule on the question, effectively leaving the Mahdi Army intact. While Sistani may regard Sadr as an unruly upstart, Sistani also recognizes that Sadr represents a massive constituency that cannot be ignored.
Cernig has more.
UPDATE: IraqSlogger reports that sources close to Sistani have strongly disputed the AP report.