Press TV, the satellite channel funded by the Iranian government, has just run this story:
Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly objected to a ‘security accord’ between the US and Iraq.
The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with “the US occupiers” as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said.
The source added the Grand Ayatollah had voiced his strong objection to the deal during a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday.
The remarks were made amid reports that the Iraqi government might sign a long-term framework agreement with the United States, under which Washington would be allowed to set up permanent military bases in the country and US citizens would be granted immunity from legal prosecution in the country…
The mandate of US troops in Iraq will expire in December 2008 and al-Maliki’s government is under US pressure to sign ‘a mutual security agreement’ which would allow the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq.
And just two days ago the AP reported this:
Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible â€” a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.
The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia…
So far, al-Sistani’s fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private â€” rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population â€” according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.
I have no idea whether any of this is accurate, but obviously if it is it’s extremely important. The UN mandate which gives the US occupation a figleaf of legitimacy was only be extended to the end of 2008 by Maliki ignoring the stated wishes of the Iraqi parliament. Thus, it’s unlikely to be extended into 2009, particularly without conditions set on the US presence.
This means the US must get a bilateral agreement with Iraq to keep troops there. The Bush administration had hoped to sign such an agreement directly with Malikiâ€”ie, without the involvement of the Iraqi parliament or US Congress. The chances of this happening were already low, and if Sistani truly is making a move now, they’re probably close to zero.
I don’t know what I would do if I were the Bush administration or the next president. Iraq may finally have gotten away from them, in the sense they’d no longer be able to continue the occupation in the current half-assed way. They may have to chose between getting out, or ramping up the ultra-violence.