Friday, September 19, 2014

Sistani: No Foreign Decisions for Iraq

From the New York Times, a report of a Friday sermon by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani: 

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Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shiite cleric, on Friday urged vigilance against Western political interference in Iraqi affairs but stopped short of opposing the American-led military campaign against the extremists of the Islamic State.

“All political leaders of the country must be aware and awake to prevent the external assistance against the Islamic State from becoming an entrance to breach Iraq’s independence,” Ayatollah Sistani said. “Cooperation with the international effort shall not be taken as a pretext to impose foreign decisions on events in Iraq, especially military events.”

His carefully balanced comments, in a statement read by his spokesman at Friday Prayer in the Iraqi city of Karbala, underscored the challenge facing the United States and its allies in their efforts to push back the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, without bolstering or antagonizing rival Shiite factions. . . .

In recent days, a handful of other Iraqi Shiite leaders or militias with closer ties to Iran have made statements expressing more wariness or opposition to the American-led military efforts, and American officials have said the Iranian proxies may be seeking to remind the Western states that Tehran, too, should be taken into account. On Friday, the Iraqi cleric Moktada al-Sadr, another influential voice with ties to Iran, called for a demonstration in Baghdad on Saturday to protest a potential incursion by American ground forces.

But Ayatollah Sistani, considered both independent and uniquely popular here, was more judicious. While he warned Iraqis to guard against foreign interference, he also appeared to endorse the idea that foreign help may be required to successfully engage the Sunni extremists.

“Iraq may be in need of assistance from its friends and brothers to combat black terrorism,” Ayatollah Sistani said. But he insisted that for Iraq, “preserving its sovereignty and independence must be the most important thing and must be taken into consideration.”

He also appealed for intersectarian solidarity in the fight against the extremists by specifically urging support for Dhuluiya, a Sunni town that has held out for months against a siege by the Sunni extremists. “Our brave Iraqi forces should help and defend Dhuluiya,” he said, “because its people are our brothers and they are the sons of our country.” . . .

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David D. Kirkpatrick and Dan Bilefsky, “Iraqi Cleric’s Speech Strikes a Balance,” New York Times, September 19, 2014

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