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[casi-analysis] casi-news digest, Vol 1 #46 - 1 msg

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Today's Topics:

   1. Item 1: Sistani, Item 2 : Russia/Iraq/Annan (ppg)


Message: 1
From: "ppg" <>
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Subject: Item 1: Sistani, Item 2 : Russia/Iraq/Annan
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 17:15:29 -0500


Middle East

Method in Sistani's muscle flexing
By Ehsan Ahrari

Just as the United States thought it was over a major hurdle when the Iraqi
Governing Council (IGC) signed that country's interim constitution on March
7, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani threw a  wrench in the very process of
transfer of sovereignty due to take place on June 30. In a letter to senior
United Nations official Lakhdar Brahimi sent last Friday, the Shi'ite leader
stated that the interim constitution - also known as the transitional
provisional law - was a recipe for the breakup of the country, and that he
would not participate in upcoming meetings with UN officials if the world
body endorsed it. The Bush administration is left, once again, to figure out
its next move. This muscle-flexing by the astute ayatollah is not without a
purpose, though.

The interim constitution establishes a three-member presidency, one
president and two deputy presidents. The president is likely to be a Shi'ite
Arab, and the deputies will be a Sunni Arab and a Kurd. At the time of the
signing of the constitution, Sistani made clear his disapproval of two
clauses: one that gives effective veto power over a permanent constitution
to Kurds, and one which enables deputy presidents to reject the decisions of
a president. In fact, the Shiite members of the 25-member IGC stalled the
signing ceremony due to Sistani's opposition. In addition, Sistani considers
the three-member executive arrangement as institutionalizing sectarianism
and ethnicity in the future political process of Iraq. Thus, his conclusion
is that the new constitution "will lead to a dead end", that it will put the
country "in an unstable situation", and that it "could lead to partition and

The United States' backing of the interim constitution and Sistani's
opposition to it, in reality, represent two visions of Iraq that are
inherently contradictory and equally incompatible. As a Western pluralistic
democracy, the US operates on the age-old principle of "unity of diversity".
In Sistani's view, the Coalition Provisional Authority's promotion of
diversity in Iraq inexorably leads to diminution of the numerical strength
of the Shi'ites. To be precise, the three-member executive branch, instead
of guaranteeing the majority status of the Shi'ites of Iraq in the future
governmental arrangement, assigns them a lesser status - ie, as merely one
among three major sects, even though Shi'ites formulate over 60 percent of
the population.

Whether the US wishes to lessen the status of the Shi'ites or not, it is
very likely that by pluralizing the Iraqi presidency, Washington wants to
ensure that a Shi'ite-dominated Iraq would not become another Islamic
republic. So one cannot dismiss the perspective of Sistani that the US's
motives regarding this issue are not exactly benign. Why else would it
elevate the status of the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds by giving them one seat
each in the deputy presidency? The seeds of mistrust on both sides are about
to give birth to a bitter harvest of even more mistrust. Political
conditions seem to be ripe for the outbreak of major Shi'ite violence in

Iraqi leaders intend to ask the UN to legitimize the transfer of sovereignty
by passing a resolution. Sistani is afraid that the Bush administration will
exploit that opportunity to insert the endorsement of the interim
constitution into such a resolution. That is why he has made it clear that
any UN approval of the interim constitution would lead to his boycotting a
meeting with its officials, who are about to arrive in Iraq to craft the
interim authority that will take over power from the Coalition Provision
Authority at the end of June.

While the UN envoys are pondering the modalities of their response to the
ayatollah, the Bush administration is facing increased complexities in its
own endeavors to define the future role of the international community in
Iraq. The electoral defeat of the Jose Maria Aznar's government in Spain has
increased the necessity of the UN endorsement of the interim constitution so
that Spanish forces aren't withdrawn from Iraq. That was the condition
stipulated by the incoming socialist government of Spain. As the Bush
administration comes under increased scrutiny and criticism over its
handling of the "war on terrorism" both inside and outside the US, the
continued presence of Spanish troops in Iraq has become of considerable
symbolic significance.

But don't expect any help from Sistani for the Bush administration and its
predicament related to Iraq or the global "war on terrorism". He is fully
focused on using the US's own predilections for democracy to ensure a
legitimate and deserving dominant role for Iraq's Shi'ites in a future
democratic Iraq.

Ehsan Ahrari, PhD, is an Alexandria, Virginia, US-based independent
strategic analyst.

2.   Russian Information Agency

.2004-03-24 16:30     * RUSSIA * UN * SECRETARY-GENERAL * NEGOTIATIONS *


MOSCOW, MARCH 24, 2004, RIA NOVOSTI - The recent outburst of violence in
Kosovo *** and the post-Saddam rebuilding of Iraq**** are expected to
dominate the agenda of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's forthcoming talks
with Russian government officials in Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri
Fedotov revealed in a RIA interview Wednesday. Annan's visit to the Russian
capital is scheduled for April 4 through 6, he said.

"We have familiarized ourselves with the Secretary General's recommendations
concerning the conditions under which the UN could return to Iraq and
[resume its] work there," Fedotov explained. "One of the principled issues
will be the character of the government to be formed in Iraq in the
transition period after June 30 [that is, the date set for the handover of
power to an interim administration]." "There's no clarity on that so far,
but we expect the upcoming conversation with Kofi Annan to help [us] work
out a common approach to the issue," the senior Russian diplomat said.

Speaking of the possible involvement of Russia and Russian companies in the
post-war reconstruction of Iraq, Fedotov expressed hope that Russia would be
playing a prominent role in the new Iraq, including in such areas as
economics and trade.

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