[Marxism] Was Sistani "the true victor" in Najaf?

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Aug 29 06:28:08 MDT 2004


A useful article in my opinion, by way of Mark Jensen, whose
introductory comments are in brackets.  One inaccuracy: the claim that
Sistani has no militia.  He does. Everybody who is anybody in Iraq seems
to have a militia.

A positive aspect of the coverage: Accepting that Sistani went to
Britain for necessary medical treatment.  Not a shred of evidence has
been presented that this was not true. The entire issue has been
speculation circulated by American officials seeking a Shia imprimatur
for their attacks, and picked up by US radicals devoted to picking up
any rumor that can serve to "expose" this or that bourgeois leader.  Is
there any evidence that these rumors circulated among Shia Iraqis.

It is charged, and may be true, that Sadr started out under the
occupation by killing an aide to Sistani as a "collaborator." If so, he
has gotten off that ruinous (for him and Iraq) course, and has adopted a
consistent united-front stance toward Sistani. That stance is an
important part of the reasons why Sadr and the Sadr militia are still
around.

On the Marxism list, someone said that Sistani's pose of "neutrality"
toward the occupation is wearing thin.  His official stance is not
neutrality but opposition.  Almost all the serious political forces in
the country -- including Sadr, the WCPI, and other supposed purists --
maneuver with the occupation because they are not yet strong enough by
any means to put an end to it. The real test however is not the degree
to which Sistani's credibility has worn thin among US radicals (or among
ultra-sectarian Sunni Baathists who tend to view the entire Shia
population as "Iranian infiltrators" -- I'm not making that up) but his
standing among the Shia masses.  It has not yet worn so very thin there
as it has on radical mailing lists in this country.

The whole debate in the bourgeois media ignores the issue of who really
won in Najaf.  That was the people of Iraq, particularly the Shia of
course.  Sistani's call gave them a chance to intervene massively on an
arena where the relationship of forces is much more favorable them  than
it is on the purely military plane.  And it turned the tide of battle.
The masses -- including the many not committed to any specific political
faction -- feel more empowered in Iraq today.  

Sistani, of course, demonstrated the tremendous threat he can represent
to Washington in Iraq by opening the door to such a mobilization, which
Sadr was unable to do in Najaf although he apparently can do so in Sadr
City.  

Sadr came out ahead also.  People in Iraq are used to uneven military
conflict.  The Militant to the contrary notwithstanding, Sadr did not
"flee" the confrontation and his forces did not fall apart under the
pressure.  And in the end his movement survived, and the occupiers were
forced to retreat.  His stock can only go up in these circumstances.
Fred Feldman


TRANSLATION: Sistani is 'the true victor of the siege of Najaf' (Le
Figaro) 

[In an analysis of the political significance of the resolution of what
he calls the "siege" rather than the "battle" of Najaf, Adrien Jaulmes
of *Le Figaro* emphasizes not only the enhancement of the Ayatollah
Sistani's authority, but also what an extraordinary thing this is as a
socio-political phenomenon: 

"Without ever meeting with journalists and possessing neither a militia
nor a political party, Sistani has several times demonstrated his heft
in the new Iraq that has been born from the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Besieged for months in his windowless house on one of Najaf's alleys by
Moqtada's partisans, surrounded by loads of clerics who look as if they
come straight from medieval miniatures, Sistani, when he deemed it
appropriate, decisively opposed American measures judged to be
unfavorable to the interests of the indispensable Shiite community.  

Most notably, in the spring he capsized the plan laid down by Paul
Bremer, the American proconsul in Iraq, by requiring that democracy be
respected, 'one man, one vote.'  Already at the head of an organization
possessing several million dollars, Sistani's moral magisterium is now
enhanced by his control of Najaf." -Mark] 

[Translated from *Le Figaro* (Paris)] 

International 

THE SIEGE OF NAJAF HAS COME TO AN END By Adrien Jaulmes 

** Moqtada al-Sadr has saved face and his own life, and the Ayatollah
Sistani has asserted his authority ** 

Le Figaro (Paris) August 28, 2004 

This translation:
http://ufppc.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1219 Original:
http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/20040828.FIG0034.html 

BAGHDAD -- The siege of Najaf has come to an end.  At dawn on Friday,
Moqtada al-Sadr issued a last appeal to his followers through the
loudspeakers of the shrine of Imam Ali.  But this time it was to lay
down arms and leave Najaf and Kufa, Najaf's sister town.  "To all my
brothers in the Mahdi Army!  You have done good work!" said the voice of
the rebel leader, from the heights of the asparagus-shaped minarets that
surround the gilded dome of the mausoleum. "You should now lay down your
arms and leave the city. 

While the militiamen lay down their rifles in wooden carts, tens of
thousands of believers entered the vast walled compound of the shrine,
accessible again, mingling with the fighters who had lived through these
past weeks holed up behind its heavy doors. 

The vast courtyard, paved and girdled with high walls that surround the
tomb of Ali, had become in recent weeks the last bastion of the Mahdi
Army, trapped by the advance of American troops to the borders of the
old city. 

After three weeks of fighting that killed several hundred Iraqis and
about ten American soldiers, the siege of Najaf ended after Moqtada
accepted Thursday night the conditions laid down by the Ayatollah
Sistani. 

This agreement, which the Americans and Allawi's Iraqi government
hastened to ratify, foresees:  control of the mausoleum of Ali passing
to the Ayatollah Sistani, the disarming of the Mahdi Army, allowed,
however, to leave the city without pursuit, the reopening of the shrine
to the faithful, repair of material damage by the government, and the
demilitarization of Najaf, whose security will be the responsibility of
the police. 

American troops, who observed a cease-fire during negotiations, began to
withdraw yesterday afternoon, while Najaf's adjunct police chief,
Brigadier Imad al-Daami, announced that his forces would deploy in the
old city, but without entering the shrine. 

Allawi's Iraqi government and the Americans were relieved.  After having
announced several times their intention to capture Moqtada al-Sadr dead
or alive and to disband his militia, the Iraqi prime minister and his
American tutors had in three weeks of operations only succeeded in
making of the siege of Najaf a new symbol of Iraqi resistance -- a
symbol they could have done without. 

Faced with two equally calamitous solutions, a shameful retreat and a
bloody assault, Sistani's mediation permitted the at least nominal
reestablishment of the authority of the Iraqi state in the city and the
removal of the control of Najaf, the center of Shiite spiritual power,
from Moqtada's hands. 

For Moqtada's part, he gets to save face, his life, and his political
future. Holed up in the Imam Ali's mausoleum, his partisans succeeded in
demonstrating their very Shiite sense of sacrifice by going head-to-head
for three weeks with the Americans, though without succeeding in
extending their rebellion to the entire Shiite community, which makes up
more than 60% of Iraq's population.  Neither the clergy nor the Shiite
bourgeoisie rallied to his jacquerie [a medieval French term referring
to a rising of the peasantry] against an occupier with which they have
preferred, so far, to negotiate. 

He also avoided, though just barely, the final assault that a battalion
of the new Iraqi army supported by the Americans was on the verge of
launching, should negotiations fail. 

Moqtada al-Sadr also keeps his fiefdom, Sadr City, the Shiite suburb of
Baghdad, where his popularity has grown as the result of his resistance
to the Americans. 

But the true victor of the siege of Najaf is a discreet old prelate who
is 75 years of age, the Ayatollah Sistani, for whom the lifting of the
siege of the shrine of Ali adds to his spiritual prestige even as it
increases his freedom of action politically. 

Back in Najaf from his convalescence in England, after a triumphal
passage from Basra through the south of Iraq, the grand ayatollah is one
of the four or five "Great Marja" (or "source of inspiration") who guide
the world's approximately 150 million Shiites with their "fatwas. 

But unlike the sometimes confused juridico-religious pronouncements of
some of the doctors of Shiite religion in Najaf, and far from the
lyrical flights of Moqtada al-Sadr eagerly announcing the end of the
world and the return of the hidden Imam with each American raid, Sistani
is also a formidable politician whose implacable fatwas always hit home.


Without ever meeting with journalists and possessing neither a militia
nor a political party, Sistani has several times demonstrated his heft
in the new Iraq that has been born from the fall of Saddam Hussein. 

Besieged for months in his windowless house on one of Najaf's alleys by
Moqtada's partisans, surrounded by loads of clerics who look as if they
come straight from medieval miniatures, Sistani, when he deemed it
appropriate, decisively opposed American measures judged to be
unfavorable to the interests of the indispensable Shiite community.
Most notably, in the spring he capsized the plan laid down by Paul
Bremer, the American proconsul in Iraq, by requiring that democracy be
respected, "one man, one vote. 

Already at the head of an organization possessing several million
dollars, Sistani's moral magisterium is now enhanced by his control of
Najaf. 

In addition to its shrine of Ali, a vast edifice built upon the tomb of
the Prophet's son-in-law and the fourth caliph, assassinated in Kufa in
the 7th century, whose towering golden bulb sits atop the hill upon
which the city is built, Najaf exerts a religious influence unequaled in
the Shiite world, even if it has, during the years of the Baathist
repression, lost part of its pre-eminence to the Iranian city of Qum. 

The return of the leading Shiite holy place to the control of a Grand
Marja with political ideas cannot be without consequences for the months
ahead, during which time Iraq's future institutions will be established.


--
Translated by Mark K. Jensen Associate Professor of French Department of
Languages and Literatures Pacific Lutheran University Tacoma, WA
98447-0003 Phone: 253-535-7219 Web page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
E-mail: jensenmk at plu.edu 

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