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Iraq's Top Cleric Won't Back Al-Jaafari

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-iraq-al-sistani,0,2884094.story?coll=sns-ap-world-headlines Iraq s Top Cleric Won t Back Al-Jaafari
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 26, 2005
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      http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-iraq-al-sistani,0,2884094.story?coll=sns-ap-world-headlines

      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
      Iran.

      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
      Shiites.

      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
      internal affairs.

      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
      religious ceremonies.

      "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
      election commission.

      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
      new alliance.

      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
      December election.
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