Iraq's Top Cleric Won't Back Al-Jaafari
By HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
Associated Press Writers
October 26, 2005, 5:28 PM EDT
NAJAF, Iraq -- Iraq's top Shiite cleric has decided to
withhold his endorsement of a Shiite coalition that
swept last January's general election, rejecting
repeated pleas by senior politicians for him to
reconsider, associates on both sides said Wednesday.
The move by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani reflected the cleric's disappointment with
the performance of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's
Shiite-led government, according to three associates
of the cleric who are in regular contact with him.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because
al-Sistani's closest allies are not permitted to talk
to media on the ayatollah's positions.
Their comments represent the first known rift between
the prominent ayatollah and the Shiite political
parties he has supported since the ouster of Saddam
Hussein in 2003.
A senior official of al-Jaafari's Dawa party, Ali
al-Adeeb, confirmed that al-Sistani had not "yet"
agreed to endorse the Shiite alliance.
Lack of an al-Sistani endorsement will reduce the
chances that the Shiite coalition, formally known as
the United Iraqi Alliance, can repeat its Jan. 30
success in the next election, set for Dec. 15.
Al-Sistani's support was credited for enabling the
alliance to win 140 of parliament's 275 seats,
allowing it to form a government with the Kurds.
Failure to repeat such success could significantly
alter Iraq's political landscape, raising the
possibility of a coalition government -- perhaps
without the big Shiite religious parties with ties to
Al-Sistani is deeply revered by Iraq's majority
Shiites, about 60 percent of the population.
Politicians seek his advice and often act on it. His
insistence that Iraq's constitution must be written by
elected delegates forced the United States to drop two
political blueprints for Iraq.
Although his aides insist that al-Sistani has no
interest in a formal political role, his edicts, or
fatwas, have shaped politics of postwar Iraq. Hence,
his unhappiness with the performance of al-Jaafari's
government could swing the Shiite vote away from the
Alliance or split the Shiite vote.
There has been profound disillusionment with the
al-Jaafari government in the Shiite community, one
reason why Shiite turnout was relatively low in the
Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's constitution. The
constitution was approved despite the low turnout by
The al-Sistani associates said the ayatollah's
decision to withhold his support from the coalition
arose from the government's failure to improve
security, services -- such as power and water supplies
-- or end persistent fuel shortages.
Al-Sistani also was concerned about what his
associates said was the government's inability to
curtail the influence of militias, fight corruption
and stop neighboring countries from meddling in Iraq's
As an example of al-Sistani's disappointment, the
associates spoke of a recent visit by a Shiite
delegation to Najaf. The lawmakers came to sound out
the cleric about a plan to establish a new ministry to
supervise religious festivals after a series of bomb
attacks and a stampede killed Shiite worshippers at
"He told them that if the money is available to set up
a new ministry then it will be better spent providing
better services to Iraqis," one associate said. The
idea was dropped.
Members of the Alliance are concerned about the impact
of al-Sistani's decision and are rushing to put
together an election team ahead of this week's
deadline to submit lists of candidates to the Iraqi
Already, the Iraqi National Congress, the party of
former Washington insider Ahmad Chalabi, has withdrawn
from the alliance and is considering deals with other
parties. Small groups of minority Shiite Kurds and
Turkomen have pulled out too and may join Chalabi in a
Entifadh Qanbar, a spokesman for Chalabi's INC,
confirmed that the party was talking to other groups,
but said no final agreement has been reached yet.
The "Sadrists," followers of radical Shiite cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr, agreed Wednesday to stay in the
Alliance after days of negotiations, according to
Sadrist lawmaker Bahaa al-Aaraji.
The Sadrists, whose militiamen fought U.S. troops last
year, enjoy widespread support in many of the mainly
Shiite provinces of southern Iraq.
Minority Kurds, who are expected to win 40-50 seats in
the December vote, are unlikely to rejoin the Shiite
Alliance. They have publicly criticized al-Jaafari's
policies and complained of what they said was their
marginalization in his Cabinet.
If the Kurds and the Shiite alliance were to part
company, the Kurds could join an alliance recently set
up by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular
Shiite, as well as the Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the
Jan. 30 vote but say they will participate in the