The Telegraph is reporting that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has "abandoned attempts to restrain his followers" and no longer believes he can stand in the way of the growing civil war. "I will not be a political leader any more," he reportedly told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."
Sistani's departure from Iraq's political scene and his return to his religious role signals an end to the Maliki regime's attempt to consolidate power and sell his reconciliation plan to the myriad of warring factions who are engaged in armed and deadly struggles against his regime, and against each other as well. It was Sistani who brought the thousands of his followers to the polls, forcing Bush to make good on his promise of early elections.
It was Sistani who forged an alliance with former militant, Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr allowing the elections to proceed. It's no exaggeration that, without Sistani's participation there may never have been elections in Iraq, or a Maliki government.
It's also clear that, without Sistani's involvement in Iraq's political future, Sadr's political influence will be elevated in the short term. It remains to be seen, though, if Sadr, who is arguably more prone to lead his followers to armed and active resistance, and, whose followers are already engaging government troops in street battles, will follow Sistani and lead his congregation away from the political sweet spot he's carved out for himself in the Iraqi legislature.
One thing that's certain, however, is that Iraq is indeed poised for a complete breakdown along sectarian lines, whatever you want to call it, and a devolution into a full-scale battle for each faction's political and material survival. In an ominous sign of things to come, the Kurds have replaced the Iraqi flag they were flying with one of their own. Iraq is splitting apart.
The Pentagon's mandatory, quarterly report to Congress, entitled, "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq," was released to the public this week. One of its primary conclusions is that, "death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife, with Sunni and Shia extremists each portraying themselves as the defenders of their respective sectarian groups."
The Pentagon report also states that the sectarian violence is escalating, "gradually expanding north to Kirkuk and Diyala Province." The report documented over 800 attacks a week.
""During the period from the establishment of the new Iraqi government on May 20 until Aug. 11," the report reads, "the average number of weekly attacks jumped to almost 800. That was a substantial increase from earlier this year and almost double the number of the first part of 2004."
Yet, Bush today, in his radio address, lied about the report and told the American people that they (the Pentagon) "report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority want peace and a normal life in a unified country."
This has got to be one of the biggest lies Bush has told since the original lies he used to take our nation to war against Iraq. He's trying to cover up what is clearly a civil war in Iraq, with our forces on one side of a multi-front conflict which is escalating around them. Bush downplays all of this to maintain his party's political campaign with our soldiers at the point of his politics. It's practically treasonous; at the least, criminally negligent, for him to ignore the conclusions of his own Pentagon's report and continue to tell the American people that everything is going swimmingly in Iraq.
On one hand he warns that leaving Iraq will cause it to become a 'terrorist's haven', and, on the other hand, he wants us to believe the U.S. supported Iraqi regime is somewhere close to assuming control over the violence there.
But, Iraq is a casualty of Bush's false ideology of dominance, of U.S. hegemony in the region, and projection of American military power. The 'democracy' he says he's brought to Iraq revealed a markedly different impetus from the residents there than Bush intended. The Shiite-dominated government that emerged has no intention at all (save Bush's puppets at the top) in fostering a U.S. satellite in Iraq. Rather than provide a U.S. compliant buffer against Bush's nemesis, Iran, the legislature has generated more opposition to their U.S. benefactors than to their Shiite Iranian neighbors.
Now, Sistani's departure from Iraq's political arena threatens to pull more of his resident followers away from the crumbling junta and into the ocean of recriminations and militia-driven, violent resistance to the U.S. occupation.
Things couldn't be any worse in Iraq.