IN THE RED ZONE 'The cultivation of
life' By Pepe Escobar
BAGHDAD - Popular wisdom in Iraq rules
that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, with a simple
fatwa, or even a single word, could bring
the US occupation to an abrupt end. So why doesn't
In the impossibility to pose this
half-trillion-dollar question to the grand
ayatollah himself (he does not grant interviews to
foreigners, and has never even bothered to receive
authorities), the next-best
option is to talk to someone close to the
marjas (sources of imitation) in Najaf.
To start with, there is ample controversy
over how many marjas there are in Iraq,
four or five. Four of them sit in Najaf, the
Shi'ite "Vatican": Sistani, Basheer Hussain
Najafi, Mohammed Taqi Mudarassi and Mohammed
Iaqubi. There's also al-Khalse, who sits in
Khadimiya, in Baghdad.
al-Roubaie is a top cleric with the Imam al-Rabani
organization, affiliated with the marjaiyya
(highest-ranking clerics) , which he defines as
"the government of the people". He insists there
is "no separation between religion and politics".
He blames the current "crisis" on the fact that
"people are not following the religious leaders.
Religious thinking is responsible for solving
people's problems. But not all learned men who put
on a turban are truly religious."
every conversation with a Shi'ite cleric, the
conflict between the West and Islam is paramount,
and every specific question is met with a cryptic,
but sometimes enlightening, answer. Roubaie
insists, "When the West comes to Islam, those who
do the work of God don't brandish a sword. We must
explain to the world that the Prophet Mohammed did
not come to the world with a sword. Islam is a
Hence the objective of
Rabani's organization is "to promote a better
understanding of Islam". He said, "We follow the
Prophet but also Jesus as a person, with his human
qualities. We follow Islam in practice, not just
by the word." The conversation was peppered with
references to Imam Ali's book Nahj al-Balagha
(there are very good English translations
published in Iran). 
question Roubaie said Sistani is like the
principal in the marjaiyya. His rulings are
obeyed "in general, but there are also the
followers of individual marjas". Roubaie
candidly admitted, "There are differences among
the marjas. Some think it's better for the
Americans to stay, otherwise there will be civil
war. Others think they should leave. There is no
united opinion." Personally, he feels "bad" about
Roubaie explained why
Sistani cannot issue a fatwa to get rid of
the occupation: "He doesn't have such a privilege,
he knows that a lot of people would die. The only
one who would have such a privilege is Imam
Mahdi." As the Prophet Mohammed and the Imam Mahdi
(prophesied redeemer of Islam) "are not situated
in real life now and are thinking about more
important things", it's unlikely Sistani will
directly tell President George W Bush and Vice
President Dick Cheney to pack up and go.
Roubaie believes the tens of thousands of
Iraqis who are falling victim to the war and
sectarian hatred are dying "for a reason".
"People have to be more spiritual. Still
now there are people among us with Saddam
[Hussein] in their minds. And the West thinks the
West is perfect, has nothing to learn. People
should recover their humanity without ethnic
prejudice. And the killing will continue - even if
the Americans go. There is no reason to believe
there won't be any other way of killing in the
Roubaie believes Shi'ite cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr may also become a marja,
provided "he continues his studies in the
hawza", the Shi'ite academy based in Najaf.
Muqtada, 34, of course, is still too young, his
crucial "sin" even among Iraqis who sympathize
with his positions. But Roubaie observed, "Now he
is already as important as his father ever was."
Muqtada is the fourth son of a famous Iraqi
Shi'ite cleric, the late grand ayatollah Mohammed
Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr.
Roubaie let it
escape that "only Sistani and al-Hakim" have a
close relationship with the government of Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki - an observation that is a
political treatise in itself. It means that what
Sistani wants is the consolidation of the
political power of the Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is led
by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.
than Iraqis' Up to 2004, it was possible to
take a taxi in Baghdad, make a stop at Hilla and
reach Najaf, 160 kilometers south of Baghdad, with
no hassle. In another measure of the current
"security" in Iraq, a trip to Najaf for a
foreigner is now considered suicide. "Too
dangerous." "You look ajnabi [foreigner]."
Worse still: "You look European." Or "You look
Iranian, they will kill you."
As far as
the security situation at the Shi'ite holy sites
is concerned, the SCIRI and its Badr Organization
are in charge in Najaf and Karbala. The Mehdi Army
is in charge in Kufa. Cleric Sayyed Mahmoud
al-Saqhri also controls private guards in Karbala.
There is no direct US involvement.
recently coming from Najaf describe the city as
surrounded by checkpoints - all of them manned by
Iraqi Army and police (overwhelmingly Shi'ites,
mostly faithful to Badr). They stop and search all
buses. All mobile phones must be left with the
guards. All cars must be left at least 2
kilometers from Najaf's city center, which houses
Imam Ali's shrine. The only cars allowed are
carrying coffins. The coffins themselves are
uncovered and searched for bombs. "The guards are
men, and they touch women's corpses," commented a
No one gets inside Imam
Ali's shrine carrying coffins anymore, as was
customary. A route must be taken leading to a side
entrance to the sprawling Dahr-al-Islam cemetery.
The market adjacent to the shrine has been rebuilt
- after continuous bombings. Commerce now "is
normal". But the city is "too quiet, too silent".
Kufa - the heart of Muqtada's movement - is
regarded as "much busier".
Ali's shrine in Najaf there "are more Iranians
than Iraqis" - all of them spies in the eyes of
the Pentagon. These Iranian pilgrims simply cannot
go to Khadimiya in Baghdad or Samarra; the trip is
far too dangerous.
Even with so much
accumulated, overlapping grief, Roubaie believes
"a solution exists for the problems in Iraq - and
for everything else. It's simple. People should
follow their true human qualities." One wonders if
this would ever apply to people like Cheney.
Anyway, Roubaie remains optimistic for the future
- even without a Sistani fatwa: "Religion
is scientific. It's life. It's the cultivation of
Note 1. The
Nahj al-Balagha (Peak of Eloquence)
is the most famous collection of sermons and
letters attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, accepted
as the final Rightly Guided Caliph by Sunni
Muslims and the first of the Imams by Shi'ite
Muslims. It was collected by ash-Sharif ar-Radi or
known in Persian as Seyyed Razi in the 10th
century. - Wikipedia