The Big Pharaoh
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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Najaf Riddle

Watching the reaction of both Arab and American media towards the developments in Najaf was so amusing. Both of them were far away from the truth yet the reason for their untruthful reporting different.

The Arab media treated Ayatollah’s Sistani shift arrival in Najaf as a victory for the “poor oppressed Shias” who were fighting the “barbaric American army” and her “Iraqi traitors”. Media commentators wrote how Sistani was so angry at what the US was doing to the holy place and he was forced to intervene, despite his illness, to stop the bloodshed. I am not sure whether such foolish comments were a results of the pundits’ lack of awareness of the true intentions of Sistani or just a way to add an anti-America twist to everything that happens in Iraq.

The American media reaction was so funny. Editorials by “US analysist” proved the naïveté and ignorance of US media towards the Shia religion and its mechanism. A word of advice: never read an article on the Middle East written by someone who has “Johnson” as a surname! (Thomas L. Friedman is an exception). The media in the US treated Sistani’s return and his success in kicking the Mahdi gang outside the shrine as a sign of failure for the “US-backed” interium government who had to wait for a religious guy to solve their problems. Such assessments lack the understanding of the crucial importance of religious figures in the Arab world and how these guys do yield considerable influence here.

Now, what’s up with this Najaf riddle? Who won in the end? To know the answer we have to look at the Najaf war as it was. Two battles were being waged in Najaf: one between Allawi and Sadr but more importantly it was a battle for the leadership of the Shia community, namely between Sadr and Sistani.

Last April, Sadr ignited his first uprising. His gang stormed the holy shrine in Najaf and literally occupied it. They controlled the keys and the treasures. When the fighting intensified, Sistani ordered all armed groups to leave Najaf including American forces. Sadr didn’t comply, his occupation of the shrine continued, and US forces had to withdraw outside Najaf to fulfill their part of the shaky truce. Poor Sistani, he lost all control over the shrine and that didn’t feel good. What would the pope feel if a wayward monk occupied the Vatican and its treasures?!

Today Sistani sleeps with the keys under his pillows! How did the keys jump from Sadr’s pocket to Sistani’s bed? Did Sistani form a militia? Sistani stayed for over 3 months with no keys, how did the old man manage to return them back? The answer is simple: he used AC-130 aircrafts.

When the latest fighting started, Sistani and all the other 4 senior clerics (the highest cardinals) left Najaf. Sistani went to the UK (ummm, isn’t this country in the coalition?!!) for treatment. He stayed there long enough until AC-130 aircrafts, 20-something years old American marines from Idaho and Florida, and Iraqi forces did the dirty work for him. When the mahdi gang softened up and Iraqi forces were literally outside the shrine, Sistani made his speed light trip to show Sadr who the big guy is.

Sadr’s fate was in the hands of the old man once again. Muqdy ended his occupation of the shrine and handed the keys as soon as possible lest Sistani has heart problems again (which translates to another showdown with AC-130s!)


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