Sistani's hidden hand

translations via Juan Cole, the Shi'a clergy are taking two hard lines. For Sadr and the Mehdi Army, they have called upon him to reject violence, and if he refuses, then go fight and lose as is forordained outside Najaf so that the civilians don't pay any further price for his folly:

ash-Sharq al-Awsat: The clerics of the Najaf seminaries have called upon the Army of the Mahdi to go fight the Americans outside the city if they must, so as to avoid the spilling of innocent blood. They called on the militia to pursue peaceful methods and to avoid violence, whatever the motivation. "If you reject our advice and decide to confront them, then remove yourselves from the city of Najaf, and take on the Occupier out there where there are no human beings or buildings, so that you do not burden others with the consequences of your decision, which is foreordained to be a failure."

This is almost a poetic reprimand. It says in no uncertain terms that Sadr is harming the Shi'a cause, without granting one iota of ground to the Occupation. The "foreordained to be a failure" part is key to understanding the subtext here.

The tone is equally harsh for the Occupation, however. In a stern warning, Sistani forbids the military from entering Najaf. Juan Cole points out that Sistani's representative has essentially promised a true uprising from the Shi'a is the Coalition tries to take on Najaf the way they did Falluja. Coming from a moderate like Sistani, that's a shicking promise, but I have to confess that a frank assessment of my own feelings reveals an intense hostility towards the idea. I can't predict my own emotions should the Coalition wage war on Najaf - it's safe to assume that if Rumsfeld doesn't understand what he is dealing with here, there could be a true Shi'a revolt that will make the Mehdi Army fighting look like lovers' quarrel.

We are literally on the brink of losing Iraq completely.

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