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[ This message has been sent to you via the CASI-analysis mailing list ] This is an automated compilation of submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org Articles for inclusion in this daily news mailing should be sent to email@example.com. Please include a full reference to the source of the article. Today's Topics: 1. Shiites Organize to Block U.S. Plan (Hassan) --__--__-- Message: 1 Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2004 07:43:11 -0800 (PST) From: Hassan <hasseini@DELETETHISyahoo.com> Subject: Shiites Organize to Block U.S. Plan To: CASI newsclippings <firstname.lastname@example.org> http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A31905-2004Mar28.html Shiites Organize to Block U.S. Plan Spurred by Sistani, Iraqi Clergy Mobilizes Followers Against Constitution By Anthony Shadid Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, March 29, 2004; Page A01 BAGHDAD -- With the turban of the clergy and the talk of a politician, Hashem Awadi, a young Shiite Muslim cleric, thumbed through papers that described the latest challenge to Washington's political blueprint for Iraq. Here, the gaunt, 38-year-old said, was a leaflet that enumerated the objections of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most powerful cleric, to Iraq's interim constitution. This, he said, was the letter the ayatollah sent to the United Nations in protest. And here, displayed proudly, was the petition denouncing that constitution in what he said amounted to a "popular referendum." "We want to make clear the will of the people," said Awadi, who heads the Ghadir Foundation, a religious institute in Baghdad that, by his count, has distributed as many as 10,000 of the petitions. "The people are burning." Awadi, whose speech veers from Islamic law to Western freedoms, is one of the leaders of a vociferous grass-roots campaign unleashed by the edict published by Sistani's office March 8 questioning the legitimacy of the interim constitution. In the weeks since, the vast network of Shiite Muslim mosques, religious centers, foundations and community organizations that make Sistani Iraq's most influential figure has led a campaign to amend the constitution or discard it. Posters have gone up at universities in Baghdad and elsewhere, leaflets have circulated among prayer-goers and Sistani's cadres -- from young clerics to devoted laymen -- have gathered tens of thousands of signatures on the petitions. Demonstrations are next, they warn. "This is freedom of expression," Awadi said, thumbing yellow worry beads. "This is freedom of opinion." The clergy's campaign is steeped in the religious symbolism that binds much of the country's Shiite majority, whose political ascendancy is a defining feature of postwar Iraq. It turns on a term -- legitimacy -- that is far easier to deny than to bestow. The campaign signals a willingness to confront U.S. authorities at a moment when time is short, as the American administration prepares to formally end the occupation on June 30 and turn over authority to an interim Iraqi government. Sistani's edict was never uttered aloud. The reclusive, 73-year-old cleric did not deliver it publicly. But the statement -- six lines penned in the meticulous handwriting of Sistani's son -- was enough to seriously imperil a document American and Iraqi leaders have hailed as a model for the Arab world and the clergy have denounced as the work of an unelected body unduly pressured by U.S. officials. Sistani's followers make clear that their campaign is not simply driven by the hope of altering the constitution. In a country where pledges of democracy are not yet supported by representative institutions, religion is by far the best-organized force. Its leadership views the constitution as an opportunity to mobilize the still unfulfilled potential of the country's Shiite majority. "For a long time, we had lost our rights," said Saad Taher, 40, a community activist and municipal worker, sitting in a tailor's shop in the religiously mixed neighborhood of New Baghdad. "We're trying to help the people to take their rights back." The room, a dingy second-floor workshop that overlooks a teeming street market of rickety stalls, is the headquarters of Taher's Committee of Heavenly Books, one of an abundance of Shiite community groups that have sprung up since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government on April 9. Most have names imbued with religious imagery, like the Committee of Rescue Ships or Committee of the Followers of Hussein, Shiite Islam's most beloved saint. Most are long on devotion and short on money. "We're from the people," Taher said. "We're the children of this neighborhood." With about 400 members, the committee has worked on the front lines of the constitutional campaign. Taher and his co-director, Talal Jaafari, a vendor in the market outside, meet every day in the workshop with five or 10 of the most committed. For the past week, they have gone to universities, to Shiite community centers known as husseiniyas, to mosques and door to door with the petitions, which describe the constitution as illegitimate and list objections that run from the document's liberal definition of citizenship to the power of an unelected government to make lasting decisions. So far, the two men have filled more than 400 petitions, each with 15 signatures, along with a name, address, occupation and birth date. Some were reluctant to sign, fearing political involvement that, until a year ago, was particularly dangerous, Taher said. "But we've overcome our fear," he said, smiling. "Thank God and praise him." "We've come to the point where others are scared of us," a friend, Jassem Qureishi, said, drawing laughs from the group. "America has a term: the rebuilding of Iraq," Taher said, sitting along a wall crowded with religious portraits and a tailor's tools. "We are rebuilding ourselves. We want to create a new Iraqi personality. That's our task. That's not the Americans' task." Asked about the next step the group plans in the campaign, Taher answered succinctly. "We take our instructions from Sheik Sahib," he said. Lieutenant in Baghdad Sheik Sahib Abdullah Warwar Qureishi is a wakil, or religious representative. He is one of about 200 in Baghdad who answer to Sistani, many of them providing the organizational power behind the campaign's momentum. Unlike many of the wakils, Qureishi is young, his bushy beard making him appear older than his 34 years. But he has spent more than a decade as a seminary student in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where Sistani has his headquarters. His words come slowly and are often unexpectedly cheerful, in the mentoring tone of a teacher. "We refuse the constitution in its entirety and its details," he said, sitting under three shelves full of law books. Qureishi is responsible for a sprawling swath of New Baghdad known as the Gulf neighborhood, which is majority Shiite. More than 70,000 people live there, and the area has 10 husseiniyas and 12 mosques. Qureishi spends half the week in Najaf, where he visits Sistani's office daily. On his three nights in Baghdad, he teaches three one-hour courses to about 37 students who, along with the activists of the Committee of Heavenly Books, have become the foot soldiers in the petition campaign. On this night, six stacks of petitions were laid out in front of him, spread like a feast. "For 35 years, Najaf could never lift its head. The people couldn't breathe," he said, as the ceiling fan blew the scent of burning incense across the room. "Now we speak as we like, we worship as we like. What we have now feels like democracy." Until late in the night, students and activists streamed into his small brick house, bordered by three palm trees, with pools of sewage outside. Each carried a bundle of petitions. Over the past week, he estimated, he had gathered at least 6,000 petitions with 90,000 signatures. Every day or so, he has the documents scanned onto a computer disc and sent to Sistani's office in Najaf. "We had more than 1,000, and it wasn't enough," said one activist, Qassim Hassan, 42, as he entered the home. "If you need a billion, I'll give them to you," Qureishi told him. Kadhim Atshan, a member of the committee, said a third of the people wanted to sign with pens dipped in their own blood. Qureishi shook his head. Sistani, he said, "has refused people doing this. He said it's disgusting, and he doesn't accept it." Sitting together on red carpets, their backs against pillows along the walls, the men talked about what they considered the constitution's faults. The campaign already resembles a movement led by Sistani against a U.S.-devised plan for Iraq's transition, announced Nov. 15, calling for regional caucuses that would choose a transitional government. A month later, Sistani made his reservations to the plan public. By February, amid popular opposition, the U.S. administration was looking for an alternative that has yet to be decided. In both campaigns, the question was who would decide Iraq's political future and under what authority. Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council, which negotiated and signed the interim constitution on March 8, "doesn't represent the majority of the people," Qureishi said. "They must represent themselves." He turned the discussion to the U.S. occupation, as the men listened patiently. "The coalition forces didn't come for your interests or my interests," he said, wagging his finger, "not at all." "The solution is for you to vote, for me to vote, for him to vote," he said, pointing to those gathered. "That's the solution." The enthusiasm grew. At one point, electricity was cut and the lights went out. Most of the men pulled out lighters. The conversation never missed a beat. Some of the youngest of the sheik's followers pleaded for more direct action. "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line," said Jawad Rumi, 33. "The shortest distance from Earth to Heaven is jihad." Over tea and cigarettes, other men spoke up, addressing the sheik or their colleagues, and nearly all seemed to have read the law. One pointed out the constitution's provision for Iraqis to reclaim citizenship. Several pointed out that the provision would allow Iraqi Jews who left for Israel in the 1940s and 1950s to return. "It will let the Israelis do as they like in Iraq," Jaafari said to the nods of others. What about Iraqi armed forces remaining under U.S. control in the interim? one man asked. Why wasn't the constitution put to a vote? asked another. Others objected to a three-member presidency that would allow a vice president, likely a Sunni Arab or Kurd, to overrule a presumably Shiite president -- a clause that U.S. officials and some Iraqi leaders describe as essential for protecting minority rights. The sheik spoke up again. From a poster embossed with red and black type on a blue background, he pointed out what he said was his biggest objection: a provision that gives Kurds an effective veto over the permanent constitution to be written next year. "This decision was imposed on us," Qureishi said. 'They're Ready to Act' The poster the sheik read from has gone up in many parts of Baghdad. It bears a picture of Sistani, with flowing beard and turban, reading from a book. In large type, it asks, "What do you know about the Iraqi State Law for the Transitional Phase?" It was published by the Najaf-based Murtada Foundation which, like Awadi's Ghadir Foundation, is among the handful of institutions that are nominally independent but under the loose supervision of the offices of Sistani and other senior ayatollahs. The literature is ubiquitous -- in husseiniyas and mosques, on the walls of universities and in markets. Qureishi, the sheik, had foot-high stacks of the group's leaflets and interviews, piled next to blank petitions. At a mosque in a nearby neighborhood, banners along the walls copied the slogans: "Any law not ratified by a nationally elected group will not be legitimate." Jassim Jazairi, a 35-year-old cleric in a black turban, runs the branch of the Murtada Foundation on Baghdad's Palestine Street, one of two in the capital. On his untidy desk were 170 petitions, marked either with signatures or with the thumbprints of the illiterate. Alongside them were copies of an interview with "a source close to" Sistani, reprinted from the foundation's magazine, Holy Najaf. Next to those was a red Koran. "Even now, when we hold forums and we talk about [Sistani's] reservations, the people almost respond with violence," Jazairi said. "They're emotional, and they're ready to act." Jazairi predicted that protests would come next, to force amendments to the constitution. He insisted they would stay nonviolent -- "peaceful resistance," as he put it. To him, they were another step in the politicization of the Shiite community, led by the clergy. "We lost so much over 35 years of repression," he said. "The fear remains, and it still affects Iraq's people. We want to restore people's confidence in themselves. We want them to know they can change the political situation they face." __________________________________ Do you Yahoo!? Yahoo! Finance Tax Center - File online. 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