Grand Ayatollah Sistani Endorses Iraq Constitution
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential cleric, has endorsed the Iraqi constitution draft that will be voted on in a national referendum next month.
The Iraqi government’s campaign to win support for the country’s new constitution has won the critical backing of the most influential Shiite religious leader, less than a month before a national referendum on the draft charter.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, meeting with aides Thursday in the holy city of Najaf, urged his followers to vote “yes” on the new basic law, according to two top officials in al-Sistani’s organization. The officials refused to be identified because they are not authorized to speak for the reclusive cleric. In January, millions of Shiites followed al-Sistani’s call to vote in Iraq’s first democratic elections in nearly half a century, and the ballot gave the Muslim sect a majority in the new parliament and government.
While this is good news, the majority Shia are not the main concern; they were expected to support the constitution, anyway.
If two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces reject the constitution during the Oct. 15 national referendum, a new government must be formed and the process of writing the document would start again.
Days after the draft constitution was approved by Iraq’s National Assembly and sent to the United Nations for printing and distribution, the government issued fliers and posters, with the banner headline stating: “Read the Constitution, it was written for your freedom.” But copies of the proposed constitution haven’t been distributed to the Iraqi public yet.
Most Sunni Muslim clerics and politicians have urged their followers to vote against the document, complaining that they did not have adequate representation in drafting it. Sunnis, the favored group under Saddam, account for an estimated 20 percent of the population and form the majority in four provinces. Two other popular leaders in Iraq’s majority Shiite sect, Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yaqoubi, also have rejected the constitution, and their stand Ã¢€” representing a potentially serious rift in the Shiite monolith Ã¢€” has been reflected recent violence in the southern city of Basra.
Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Affairs said the escalation in Basra underscored the growing rift among Shiite factions ahead of the referendum and parliamentary elections in December. “In large part, this is a reaction to a struggle between hard-liners and more moderate religious elements,” he said. Cordesman said the more moderate stance of the largest Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was not accepted in southern Iraq, where “a relatively hard-line religious takeover in Basra, one linked closer to Iran,” has created animosity toward the British presence.
The fighting has underscored the fact that the groups “Shiite,” “Sunni,” and “Kurd” are not monoliths but groups of people with their own internal differences. While that should be obvious, we outsiders tend to forget that when analyzing the situation.
Of course, we make the same mistake when analyzing our own polity, whether on party, ideology, or race. Schemas are quite useful for making sense of the world but they can be a barrier to understanding if relied upon exclusively.