HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

Sistani's Fatwa: Iraqi Shi'a Must Protect Iraqi Sunnis

The significance of Iraq's Shi'a leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani's fatwa instructing his followers to protect Iraqi Sunnis is difficult to overstate in the context of Iraq's crucial reconciliation process.
Leading Shiite cleric in Iraq Ali Sistani Tuesday banned the killing of Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, and urged the Shiites to protect their brother Sunnis.

Sistani bans the Iraqi blood in general the blood of Sunnis in particular. His announcement came during a meeting with a delegation from Sunni clerics from southern and northern Iraq. The clerics are visiting Najaf to participate in the first national conference for Ulemaa of Shiites and Sunnis.

Sistani called on the Shiites to protect their Sunni brothers, according to Sheikh Khaled Al-Mulla, head of the authority of Ulemaa of Southern Iraq, noting that the Fatwa of Sistani would have positive impacts nationwide.

"I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shitte or a Kurd or a Christian," Al-Mulla quoted Sistani as saying during the meeting.

Sistani warned the Sunni clerics from the plans of the enemies to plant seeds of discord among the Iraqis.

The visiting delegation voiced relief for the meeting and said they backed Sistani's stance.
Western observers should note the significance of Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Among the world's Shi'a, he is seen as a direct (and rational) competitor to Iran's radical Ayatollah Khameini for the true leadership of the Shi'a ummah (community). Many in fact have already seen him as the true leader of the Shi'a. Unlike Khameini, Sistani sees room for democratic governance and a separation between the mosque and government. For a bit of background for those unfamiliar with Sistani's significance in the Muslim world far beyond Iraq, consider an Iraq analysis from this spring:
In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi’a faith. While the Khomeinist revolutionary Khameini clearly believes in Shi’a theocracy, the Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani believes that the faith can exist within a democracy without theological conflict. And while the Iranians work to spin the growing Sunni tribal rejection of al-Qaeda as Americans “negotiating with terrorists,” Sistani himself has always had open channels of communication with American forces and the Iraqi government.

Iran Evidence Turned SCIRI, Sistani Popular In Iran
It was through those open channels that the United States clearly shared evidence of Iranian material support for specific Sunni groups engaged in targeting Shi’a Iraqis in attacks. And it was clearly compelling enough to cause Iraq’ largest Shi’a political party to seek guidance from the traditionalist (and pro-democracy) al-Sistani instead of the revolutionary Iranian leaders....

....Sistani’s appeal does not end at the Iraqi border, as Iranians increasingly observe his leadership with interest and fondness. Some are “intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in Shi'ite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq,” which is fundamentally different in approach than the Iranian theocratic brand of dictated observance and obedience. The Boston Globe’s Anne Barnard reports that within Tehran’s own central bazaar, “an increasing number of merchants are sending their religious donations, a 20 percent tithe expected from all who can spare it, to Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric.”
ThreatsWatch readers may want to back again and re-read the last paragraph.

Again, the significance of this development from Sistani is difficult to overstate, especially once one appreciates Ayatollah Sistani's position of leadership atop the Shi'a faith...not to mention his moderation and pragmatism.