It could be a whole new ball game, friends.
The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq has rejected an American-backed proposal to allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to government service, an aide to the cleric said today…
“The office of Grand Ayatollah Sistani is deeply concerned about the new law,” the aide said…
The comments from the ayatollah’s office came a day after Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite and head of the de-Baathification commission, met with the cleric in Najaf. Mr. Chalabi has opposed any serious attempt to roll back the purging of former Baathists from government. After the meeting on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi said at a news conference that Ayatollah Sistani was aware of the law and had told Mr. Chalabi that it “would not be the final one and there would be other drafts.”
Some critics of the Bush administration will celebrate Sistani’s smack down. Here is the thing to remember: among those “critics” will be most of the Neo-cons/Right Zionists who championed de-Baathification in the first place.
Every time the Right Zionists look like they are down for the count in Washington, Sistani gives them a new lease on life in Baghdad.
It happened in 2004 when he demanded elections, overruling the Scowcroft crowd of Right Arabists in Washington that warned against elections, pressed for re-Baathification, and championed ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.
Right Zionists have had their disappointments (and plenty of enemies, to be sure!), but almost all of the disappointments have originated in Washington. In Iraq, Right Zionists have enemies (i.e., the entire Sunni insurgency, elements of a Sadrist Shiite insurgency, etc.), but few disappointments.
The first “Cutler’s Blog” reader to link to a Right Zionist celebrating Sistani’s proclamation wins…
Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab political elite is already in full revolt. More from the New York Times:
News of the rejection today drew harsh criticism from Sunni Arab leaders.
“In my opinion, our country is now one led by the clerics, and the new political process in Iraq is made to allow those clerics and religious parties to govern Iraq,” said Salim Abdullah, a legislator from the main Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament. “The Iraqis will feel the consequences of that.”
“The Iraqi government is using wilayat al-faqih,” he said, angrily invoking the term that refers to the style of clerical governance popularized by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.
Officials from the secular party of Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, also expressed profound disappointment. Mr. Allawi said in an interview last month that the religious Shiites were using the de-Baathification process to unjustly purge members of his party from public office. Mr. Allawi, a Shiite who is a former Baathist, has said that the Sunni-led insurgency will continue as long as former members of the Baath Party are shut out of significant positions in the government.
Ibrahim al-Janabi, a legislator and senior aide to Mr. Allawi, said today that the lobbying of Ayatollah Sistani by Shiites like Mr. Chalabi “is the weapon of losers.”
I do not envy poor Ryan Crocker, the newly arrived Arabist US ambassador to Iraq. He was all set to inherit Zalmay Khalilzad’s re-Baathification policy. Now, he may inherit the wind.
[Update: Reuters reports that a Beirut-based “spokesman” for Sistani has cast doubt on the veracity of Sistani’s rejection of the de-Baathification bill:
“What some news agencies said quoting who they described as an aide to Sayyed Sistani about his position on the de-Baathification Law was not true,” Hamed al-Khafaf, who is based in Beirut, said in a statement…
“We are surprised by attempts trying to get (the Shi’ite clerical establishment) involved in a case which is the speciality of constitutional organisations,” Khafaf said, without saying what Sistani’s position was on the law.
Ed Wong’s New York Times article quoted “an aide” and reported on “comments from the ayatollah’s office,” but offered no names. Maybe the whole affair was nothing more than a Chalabi-inspired fabrication. We’ll see.]