Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The 400-pound Turbaned Gorilla Weighs In…

It’s official: a source close to Sistani’s “political office” has confirmed to me in a phone interview from Baghdad this afternoon that Muhammad Ridha Sistani, the Grand Ayatollah’s son, has been putting out the word that the faithful should vote for the United Iraqi Alliance list no. 555.

His exact message—delivered over the course of last week to Sistani’s representatives across Iraq—was “tell the people to vote for Islamist lists, and then tell them not to vote for small or marginal lists, to forestall the fragmentation or dissipation of the Shia votes.”

This is a de facto fatwa from Sistani to vote for the UIA list, headed by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim and Ibrahim Jaafari.

Although this source is adamant in saying that Papa Sistani stands behind this policy, I tend to think that this is the initiative of Muhammad Ridha; a diminutive busy-body with all sorts of insecurity complexes, who is also exceedingly ambitious. Gossip in Najaf, emanating from the offices of Sistani’s rivals, has it that the Grand Ayatollah is not feeling too well—in the head. Well, we’ve been hearing these sorts of rumors for a while, but recent visitors have described Sistani as “extra cranky” these days.

Usama Mahdi of Elaph, demonstrating again that he is the go-to guy in putting out sensationalist election news, wrote a story on the same topic, but I believe he got some basic facts on what was said wrong. He sources his information to Akhbar Al-Najaf news agency.

I’ve also been hearing that the Iranians are doing feverish polling activity around Iraq, and have concluded that their acolytes in the UIA list are in trouble. The only person that could have saved them was Muhammad Ridha Sistani, who had a big hand in picking Jaafari for Prime Minister, even though sources close to him deny that. The Iranians, on the other hand, claim that he did in fact choose Jaafari and that they had nothing to do with it.

There must have been some sort of deal between the Iranians and Muhammad Ridha…Who brokered it, and what did Muhammad Ridha Sistani get out of it?