Showdown in Najaf
Follow this historic happening via Google News today-- Sistani (fresh out of hospital) and thousands of his closest friends march to Najaf to see Sadr, our Marines, and the Iraqi police. Will all hell break loose, or will all be forgiven?!
My main man Juan Cole
The stakes here are enormous. If Iraqi police fire on the peaceful demonstrators again, or if US troops refuse to make way for Sistani, there could be a big social explosion in Iraq. If Sistani is successful in his plan, on the other hand, it will further increase his authority in the Shiite South and perhaps even transform him into a nationalist hero.
All this is important because Sistani is insisting on the January elections being held on time. If they are postponed he will almost certainly send his followers into the streets to protest, and could well bring down Allawi.
Sistani's return raises many questions. Note that he did not fly into American-controlled Baghdad but rather to Kuwait, traveling overland to Basra. Since Basra is in British hands, with a Shiite governor that seems pro-Sistani, it seems possible that Sistani's people coordinated his return with the British and with the Basra authorities rather than with the United States and the Allawi government. Indeed, America's most militant asset in Najaf, governor Ali al-Zurfi, seems dead set against Sistani returning with crowds this way. You have to wonder if the British MI6 and military are showing some insubordination toward the Americans by allowing all this, as a mark of their disapproval of the gung-ho Marine attacks in Najaf, which have caused trouble in the British-held South and endangered the British garrisons...
posted by Andy
If Sistani does lead a popular march of the sort the press is describing, it might be the most significant act of civil disobedience by an Asian religious leader since Gandhi's salt march in British India. And it might kick off the beginning of the end of American Iraq, just as the salt march knelled the end of the British Indian empire.