Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Real Struggle for Iraq

by Amir Taheri
New York Post
September 29, 2004

excerpt, more at

Those who want Iraq to fail so that Bush and/or America will also fail are now focusing their energies towards a single goal: postponing elections in Iraq for as long as possible. To achieve that goal, they will stop at nothing.

It was on that basis that opponents of Iraqi elections have cooked up a story around the claim that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the primus inter pares of the Shiite clerics in Najaf, wants the election postponed or may even boycott.

U.S. and European newspapers that had always dismissed Sistani as "a reactionary mullah" have recently put him in the headlines and devoted lengthy editorials and op-ed pieces to his supposed opposition to the holding of elections.

The initial story was built around the claim that Sistani is unhappy with the elections because the Shiite share is limited to 55 percent of the total rather than 60 percent.

This is an absurd claim for the simple reason that the planned elections treat all of Iraq as a single constituency in which every vote is equal to every other vote. And if several or even all of Iraq's political parties wish to enter the election with a single list of national unity, how could Sistani overrule them? The ayatollah has never claimed to be a dictator.

Nor is Iraq an Iranian-style "Islamic" state, where a single mullah can overrule everyone else and even suspend the basic tenets of the religion. Anyone who knows Sistani would know that he is the last person to play the deadly game of Shiite-Sunni rivalry.

Note also that the January election is to form a Constituent Assembly, a body that will write the nation's new constitution. It is therefore important that the assembly enjoy the widest possible support among all Iraqis.

Immediately after Saddam's fall, some of us had urged the Bush administration to transfer power to an interim Iraqi government and organize elections as quickly as possible. Sistani endorsed that view as early as August 2003, calling for a transfer of power to the Iraqis and the holding of elections.

His position has not changed. Sistani wants elections, and wants them as soon as possible. All he asks is that the international community, including the United Nations, play a role in organizing and supervising the series of elections planned for next year. His hope is that Iraq would not only have a new constitution, to be approved in a popular referendum, but also an elected parliament and a government with a clear electoral mandate before the end of 2006. That, he knows, is the fastest way for the Coalition forces to leave Iraq in peace and with dignity.

Sistani insists on international participation, beyond the U.S.-led Coalition, for two reasons. First, he knows that divisions among the big powers over Iraq are harmful for all concerned. He wants them to unite in helping the people of Iraq make their true feelings known through free elections. Second, he knows that the elections will enjoy greater legitimacy if the international community unanimously endorses the results.

Sistani's message is simple: Think of the future of Iraq, not the settling of past scores.