The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war.
Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.
“I will not be a political leader any more,” he told aides. “I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters.”
It is a devastating blow to the remaining hopes for a peaceful solution in Iraq and spells trouble for British forces, who are based in and around the Shia stronghold of Basra.
I no longer have power to save Iraq from civil war, warns Shia leader
I take it he is saying that it is his perception that he is no longer in a position to play that pivotal role because Iraq’s Shiites have been turning to leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr. (Since al-Sadr is sort of an all-but-dissertation Ph.D. student and Sistani is the most eminent professor in the system, this desertion of the old man for the younger one in the street is a real slap in the face to the Najaf establishment.)
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki said Saturday after meeting the top spiritual guide of Shiite Iraqis Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani that the top scholar called for barring non-governmental troops from carrying or keeping weapons.
“Al-Sistani called for unifying the nation and restricting arms to government troops,” the senior official said at a news conference held in the holy city of Najaf.
“The national reconciliation plan is a governmental plan which was agreed upon by all political forces,” pointed out Al-Maliki, and added that the current government is the only authority responsible for seeking the welfare of this country.
If only it can happen…
Update Sunday – More at Gorilla’s Guides.