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May 24, 2008

Iranian TV: Sistani Forbids Longterm US Basing Agreement

Press TV, the satellite channel funded by the Iranian government, has just run this story:

Iraq's most revered Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly objected to a 'security accord' between the US and Iraq.

The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with "the US occupiers" as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said.

The source added the Grand Ayatollah had voiced his strong objection to the deal during a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday.

The remarks were made amid reports that the Iraqi government might sign a long-term framework agreement with the United States, under which Washington would be allowed to set up permanent military bases in the country and US citizens would be granted immunity from legal prosecution in the country...

The mandate of US troops in Iraq will expire in December 2008 and al-Maliki's government is under US pressure to sign 'a mutual security agreement' which would allow the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq.

And just two days ago the AP reported this:

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts 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.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia...

So far, al-Sistani's fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.

I have no idea whether any of this is accurate, but obviously if it is it's extremely important. The UN mandate which gives the US occupation a figleaf of legitimacy could only be extended to the end of 2008 when Maliki brazenly ignored the stated wishes of the Iraqi parliament. It's unlikely he can do this again, so it can't be extended into 2009, at least without conditions set on the US presence.

This means the US must get a bilateral agreement with Iraq to keep troops there. The Bush administration had hoped to sign such an agreement directly with Maliki—ie, without the involvement of the Iraqi parliament or US Congress. The chances of this happening were already low, and if Sistani truly is making a move now, they're probably close to zero.

I don't know what I would do if I were the Bush administration or the next president. Iraq may finally have gotten away from them, in the sense they'd no longer be able to continue the occupation in the current half-assed way. They may have to chose between getting out, or ramping up the ultra-violence.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at May 24, 2008 10:55 PM

I'm putting my money on the ultraviolence.

No doubt if things start getting out of hand, the US and Maliki will simply suspend Parliament and keep blowing shit up. We're not building those huge bases and extra prisons over there just to get up and leave them behind because of some pantywaist UN mandate.

Eventually, of course, we'll get the helicopters on the rooftops scenes again, but there's a lot of good death and destruction left to be doing before then.

Posted by: Mike at May 25, 2008 05:31 AM

Call me crazy but I think getting out is really the way to go.

Posted by: cemmcs at May 25, 2008 08:45 AM

Are you sure this is a meaningful development? Because it sounds to me like a lot of Iraqi-domestic posturing. What else are Iraqi politicians going to do? Remain silent regarding the occupiers forever? When's the best time to speak out against the U.S. then between administrations?

Politics is never conclusive; when you say this is (if true) an extremely important development, I imagine a year from now we'll have no treaty in place yet troops will still be present in some cosmetically-insignificant different way. Even in hindsight we'll look back at this moment and wonder: "That last car bomb - was that Sistani's Will manifested? This minor uptick/downtick in violence - is that because we have no charter with the UN to occupy Iraq, or is it seasonal?"

I don't know. I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of the situation, but it's kinda hard given how absurd everything's been up to this point.

Posted by: A Different Matt at May 25, 2008 11:23 AM

i guess we're fixin to discover just how 'temporary' those temporary bases in Iraq really are.

ya think they built 'em all modular so they could be struck quick for mobility?

nah, me neither...

Posted by: woody, tokin librul at May 25, 2008 11:30 AM

The Green Zone was Saddam's castle and Iraq his titled lands, my guess is he's still collecting the rent, even in hell.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 25, 2008 11:46 AM,1518,547198,00.html

Sorry to break the flow, but has anyone else been seeing much reporting of this in US news?

Posted by: StO at May 25, 2008 12:31 PM

WE GOT JETS, so if Sistani is serious, and no doubt he is a serious person, AND this is what he says, then its going to be one long bloody slugfest (as if it hasn't been already), 'cause WE got jets. Now if ur Deadeye Dick, then this is GOOD news, as for every dead Iraqi WE are one step closer to getting OUR hands on all that OIL. (and THAT'S what WE PAY Ole Deadeye for)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 25, 2008 05:12 PM

Meanwhile, look who says the Senate should have to ratify any such agreement:

"House Defies White House Veto Threat, Passes Defense Authorization Bill
By John M. Donnelly, CQ Staff

The House passed a $601.4 billion defense authorization bill Thursday, brushing aside a White House threat to veto the massive bill.

Before passing the bill (HR 5658) by a vote of 384-23, lawmakers rejected Bush administration objections to adopt two amendments that are intended to set the ground rules for an agreement the administration is negotiating with Iraq to provide a legal framework for a continued U.S. troop presence after this year.
. . . . [Here's one of them:]
The House also adopted, 234-183, an amendment by Barbara Lee , D-Calif., to require congressional authorization for any agreement obligating the U.S. military to defend Iraq."

Posted by: OppEd at May 25, 2008 05:59 PM

I don't know. I think the Bush administration understands that nothing can dislodge them from Iraq.

Posted by: Mark at May 25, 2008 11:40 PM

I have a couple of colleagues from Iraq and from everything they have told me, the US should take Al-Sistani very, very seriously. Al-Sadr is a minor bit player compared to Al-Sistani who commands the loyalty of the vast majority of Shiite Iraqis. Al-Maliki cannot ignore these fatwas and retain any relevance. Al-Sistani has been steadfastly against retaliatory killings following Sunni attacks on Shiites and has been, until now, reluctant to saction attacks on US troops but he has also refused to have any interaction with US authorities. He is truly a force to be reckoned with. I have no doubt the worst possible course of action would be to target Al-Sistani. It would be (roughly) like killing the Pope.

Posted by: jumpinin at May 26, 2008 12:55 PM

There seems to be a bit of misunderstanding about the relationship between al-Sistani and al-Sadr. Actually, al-Sistani holds a 'position' of authority in the Muslim world similar to what the Pope commands in the world of Catholics. While Islam doesn't have an official pope - al-Sistani is about as close as you can come. al-Sistani is so powerful that the first time al-Sadr commenced a violent uprising, al-Sistani told him to stop fighting and al-Sadr did. This is almost unheard of in the Arab world - al-Sadr's unilateral abandonment of the battlefield would be a death-blow to the pride and honor almost unbearable, and if it had been delivered by anyone other than al-Sistani, a suicide would have shortly followed (al-Sadr's).
I believe one of the reasons al-Sistani has refused to deal with the US is that he rightly does not want to even give anyone the slightest appearance of possibly consorting/collaborating with our illegal occupation. This is necessary for him to maintain his position as the most holy grand ayatollah - and for him to have any credibility with his people, including al-Sadr, after the US leaves Iraq.
Therefore, I am hopeful that this edict against the basing agreement is true, because al-Maliki would not dare go against al-Sistani. It is worrisome that al-Sistani is now giving the go-ahead to attack US troops - but I also believe that message is clear as well. He has given the US time to complete it's supposed mission. That time is now over and it's past time to leave. And we had better do it, because if al-Sistani says it's okay to kill US Troops, every person with a gun will rise up to obey the fatwa and we ain't seen nothin' yet like the entire population of Iraq shooting at us!
jimpinin is correct - we also had better not target al-Sistani because it truly would be like killing the Pope. Then we would not just have the Iraqis mad at us, the entire 1.2 or so billion Muslims the world over would be demanding retribution and revenge.

Posted by: lokywoky bitter hussein at May 27, 2008 03:41 AM

I wonder if the U.S. will raze these huge bases when it's forced to abandon them, or if it will leave the empty Burger Kings and Denny's' for the wonderment of the Iraqi survivors.

Posted by: NoOneYouKnow at May 27, 2008 01:46 PM

Gen. Petraeus' uniform is only the most visible manifestation of the US Army's over-the-top obsession with bling. We in the Air Force have always been more restrained, although there has been some "bling creep" in recent decades.

Re. Powell's reason for not running for president, surely there was some lurking irony. If not, this was far from the most important reason he declined to run.

Posted by: Ralph Hitchens at May 27, 2008 01:53 PM