FOX News –TV only at this stage, I can’t find a link–is reporting that there was an assassination attempt on Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani in Baghdad. It was unsuccessful

Update (1940): NYT has more:

Unidentified assailants tried today to kill Iraq’s most powerful spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, according to the spokesman for a politician with close ties to the Shiite cleric.

But others denied there was an attack, and the American military said it had no confirmation.

The spokesman for Mowaffak al-Rubaie, an independent Shiite member of the Iraqi Governing Council who met Ayatollah Sistani this afternoon, said the attempt against the ayatollah took place in the southern city of Najaf a few hours earlier, near the golden-domed shrine of Ali, a religious landmark. The attempt failed, said the spokesman.

“Some people tried to kill Sistani this morning, but he’s now in very good health,” Mr. Shapoot said. The ayatollah, who is 73 years old, is rarely seen in public.

Al Jazeera, the Arab-language television station, reported that gunmen had fired at Ayatollah Sistani as he left his office to go home. The Reuters news agency quoted a member of Ayatollah Sistani’s security detail as saying that gunmen “opened fire” on the ayatollah at 10 a.m. as he greeted people in Najaf.

My honest reaction was regret, as Sistani seems to be the biggest obstacle to our progress over there. Apparently, that’s not the view on the ground:

Ayatollah Sistani, spiritual leader of this nation’s 15 million Shiite Muslims, is a central figure in the postwar Iraqi political scene, and the man upon whom rests myriad American hopes for an orderly transfer of power to the Iraqi people. In the 10 months since the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Sistani has urged his followers to treat the Americans with patience, thereby mollifying the country’s largest and potentially most restive group.

In recent months, Ayatollah Sistani has challenged the Americans by insisting the country hold direct elections for a national assembly before the Americans hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people, which the Bush administration is determined to do by June 30. American leaders say holding elections before June 30 is impractical, and they have proposed instead a series of nationwide caucuses. Through it all, the ayatollah has kept his distance, refusing to meet with the American leaders but holding out the possibility of a compromise.

The prospect of Ayatollah Sistani’s murder is therefore horrifying to American administrators here, who would not only lose an important ally but also one of the country’s main sources of stability.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Aaron says:

    All hell would break loose if he was assassinated. The recent attack on the Kurds and now this are going to be very testy on the minds many sides are trying to influence.

  2. Steven says:

    I suspect that he were killed that his followers would blame the US for lack of security and that the ramifications would be quite negative for the ongoing rebuilding process.

  3. Aaron says:

    I agree, but it’d also be a great excuse for the Shiites to go and attempt to even some scores with the Sunnies.

    Keep up the great blog.

  4. Peter says:

    The best hope there is for a peaceful end to the clash of cultures between Islam and the West is Iraq. It’s also a damned slim hope. Still, given the alternatives, I’m glad we’re taking the long shot bet.
    Iraq is THIS CLOSE to a three way civil war, Sunni, Shia’ite and Kurd. Sistini understands that and understands the cost of such a war to his people.
    Failure in Iraq will bring the same eventual consequences as not acting at all would have brought, an eventual all-out war between Islam and the West.