Bombshell: SCIRI splits with Iran, swears loyalty to Sistani

posted at 6:33 pm on May 12, 2007 by Allahpundit

Huge news. To refresh: SCIRI is the name of one of Iraq’s biggest Shiite parties, short for the “Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.” It was formed in Iran in the early 1980s by Iraqi Khomeinists with the goal of replacing Saddam with Iranian-style clerical rule. Since the invasion, it’s presented itself as a peaceful, mainstream political party (successfully enough to earn its party leader, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a trip to the White House in December) while maintaining a militia — the Badr Organization, a.k.a. Badr Brigades — that functions as Sadr’s only serious rival for Shiite paramilitary dominance. Having kept counsel with the mullahs through the years, they’re widely suspected of being Iran’s chief proxy in Iraq.

Which makes this a rather atomic bombshell:

Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite party will make key changes to its platform, party officials said on Friday, in a move that will increasingly align it with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani…

Under the new platform, the party would get its guidance from the Shi’ite religious establishment as before, but more from Sistani, SCIRI officials said.

That would mark a shift from SCIRI’s current platform, which says the group gets its guidance from the religious establishment of Welayat al Faqih, led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

They’re also changing their name to the “Supreme Islamic Iraq Council,” dropping “Revolution” because, they claim, with Saddam gone the revolution has been achieved. Iraqslogger calls that a bald-faced lie and reminds us that getting rid of Saddam was, and perhaps still is, only half of the equation:

SCIRI – as the party’s name indicates – saw itself as the “Iraqi branch” of the Khomeinist movement. Al-Hayat said that a statement by the party announced that SCIRI will change its name, and remove the term “revolution” because “it signified combating Saddam Husain.” That argument is patently incorrect, since the party’s literature and history clearly indicate that it did not perceive itself as a mere movement of contestation against the defunct dictator, but as an extension to Khomeini’s revolutionary vision.

The question of the hour is whether they’re dropping the “R” and naming Sistani, who allegedly opposes Iranian-style rule by cleric, their spiritual leader because they’ve sincerely embraced democracy (Reuters says they’re promising to add democratic language to their new platform) or whether it’s a PR ploy to appeal to voters’ patriotism by “Iraqifying” the party’s image. Their main rivals, the Sadrists, are noisily nationalistic and, as I’ve mentioned recently, are reaching out to Sunnis to make themselves look even more so. The more “Iraqi” they become in the public’s mind, the more “Iranian” SCIRI becomes by contrast, which will do it no favors come election time. So one possible explanation is that they’re simply trying to keep up with Sadr by doing the same thing illegal immigrants did last year after the first few marches when they switched their Mexican flags for American ones.

Another possibility is that Sadr himself might be starting to earn a reputation among Iraqis as an Iranian tool and SCIRI’s trying to capitalize by outflanking him and remaking itself as the “real” Iraqis. David Satterfield said yesterday that the U.S. knows Sadr’s been in Iran since January; if he knows, some Iraqis must know too and word’s probably long since gotten around. There have been reports, too, of the Mahdi Army (or at least certain parts) reorienting itself towards the mullahs as well as rumors of a military training camp attended mostly by JAM militiamen outside Tehran. Maybe that’s why Sadr’s suddenly decided to talk to the Sunnis: he’s trying to scrub the Persian fingerprints off of himself. If so, it leaves SCIRI with an opening to shed its image as Iranian stooges and present itself as the true Iraqi patriots, leveraging Sistani’s religious authority among Shiites in the process. That could come in mighty handy later, not only in the elections but if and when SCIRI and the Sadrists finally square off and each side starts looking for recruits.

Or, of course, it could all be a big ruse concocted by Iran to make its puppet look a bit less wooden and more like a real boy, possibly to give it more leverage with the U.S., even while it continues to pull the strings. Or it could be a genuine break between the two, a logical reaction by SCIRI to some behind-the-scenes decision by the mullahs to make Sadr their pawn of choice given his cult of personality inside Iraq and larger military force. No telling for sure, but these Iraqi Kremlinology posts sure are fun. (For me, not for you.)

Iraqslogger wonders whether this will all backfire once the SCIRI faithful realize that their ostensible religious leader, Khamenei, isn’t their religious leader anymore. Ironically for an Islamist party, SCIRI’s counting on their patriotism to trump their faith.

Update (5/13): A day later, SCIRI is denying the reports of any split with Iran.


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Comments

That is huge. For all his Islam, Sistani has been the foremost of very few calming influences on Iraq, and he has been so from the beginning.

This is a very good sign, if it holds up.

Pablo on May 12, 2007 at 6:39 PM

That was funny, what starts out as an “atomic bombshell” turns out to be nothing more than a semantic change.

Capitalist Infidel on May 12, 2007 at 6:39 PM

That was funny, what starts out as an “atomic bombshell” turns out to be nothing more than a semantic change.

If it’s a semantic change. It may be a genuine break with Iran.

Allahpundit on May 12, 2007 at 6:43 PM

The shift of the Shi’ites to Sistani leadership, together with the word from the Saudis to the Iraqi Sunnis that they are on their own, could signal the beginning of a real Iraqi identity, which would be critical for a successful withdrawal of coalition forces. Without that identity it would be chaos. With that identity, it may still be chaos, but it might not look so bad for the US reputation.

pedestrian on May 12, 2007 at 6:52 PM

A lot of shia from Iran who make a pilgrimage in Iraq leave as followers of Sistani. He’s better than the Iranians, but have you seen his website?

PRCalDude on May 12, 2007 at 7:22 PM

(For me, not for you.)

Yeah.

But even at that, I read the whole thing, and I’m becoming more pessimistic because I just am not going to get excited about this until I see some concrete changes.

csdeven on May 12, 2007 at 7:24 PM

He’s better than the Iranians, but have you seen his website?

rule number 2433:

A woman with whom temporary marriage is contracted, is not entitled to subsistence even if she becomes pregnant.

Absolute moral authority.

pedestrian on May 12, 2007 at 7:49 PM

If true, this is freakin’ huge! Couple that with the sheiks and tribal leaders in the Anbar Province who are joining with the U.S. and Iraq in the fight against A/Q. Hopefully, things are beginning to turn around.

Neocon Peg on May 12, 2007 at 7:53 PM

I remember clearly the events of the Iran hostage crisis, one of my recollections is the ease with which the Shia lied to any and all involved in trying to free the hostages believing it is not a sin to lie to an infidel. Their actions never matched their words. Could it be they are telling us what the democraps want to hear? I’m just gonna wait and see. Thanks for post Allah.

Zorro on May 12, 2007 at 8:02 PM

One of the elements to success in Iraq is Shiite allegiance to an independent democratic Iran. Sadr is a tool of Iran. If the Shiites go with the Iraqi government, then they join the Kurds in wanting nothing to do with an insurgency.

Phil Byler on May 12, 2007 at 8:06 PM

That’s SIIC.

Tru2my2 on May 12, 2007 at 8:06 PM

Beware of Muslims bearing gifts.

pocomoco on May 12, 2007 at 8:08 PM

One of the elements to success in Iraq is Shiite allegiance to an independent democratic Iran. Sadr is a tool of Iran. If the Shiites go with the Iraqi government, then they join the Kurds in wanting nothing to do with an insurgency.

Phil Byler on May 12, 2007 at 8:06 PM

Phil did you mean “independent democratic Iraq?”

Neocon Peg on May 12, 2007 at 8:15 PM

this could be a huge thing for us and for the time being i’m choosing to think positively about this news alert

Defector01 on May 12, 2007 at 8:20 PM

Defector01 on May 12, 2007 at 8:20 PM

I tend to agree with you. This could be huge. I remain positive. The iraqis have to know the political winds in the U.S. and know they have a limited timetable to do something. It is too bad it has taken them this long. But I do believe (hope) they will come together. It seems like the Shia and the Kurds may be enough to turn the tide. Time will tell.

Neocon Peg on May 12, 2007 at 8:30 PM

If it’s a semantic change. It may be a genuine break with Iran.

I don’t think you know what a semantic change means. It means that the words have changed to convey a different meaning while all along the real meaning remains the same.

Capitalist Infidel on May 12, 2007 at 8:42 PM

Well, if they swear allegiance to Sistani, they’ll have to actually take direction from him. If they don’t, they’ll quickly be exposed as frauds. Presumably, Sistani isn’t going to sit by and allow them use him in any ruse.

TheBigOldDog on May 12, 2007 at 8:42 PM

So we wait……….

ordi on May 12, 2007 at 8:55 PM

So we wait……….

Exactly. It won’t take long to learn the truth. Sistani and his followers will let the whole world know the first time they refuse “advice.”

TheBigOldDog on May 12, 2007 at 9:00 PM

No telling for sure, but these Iraqi Kremlinology posts sure are fun. (For me, not for you.)

Ya, but the future analysis of Islamic brigades vis-à-vis political factionalism is certain to be much less academic.
I’d be happy to be wrong about that.

Stephen M on May 12, 2007 at 9:02 PM

A fractured Iran is a fractured Iran, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Hopefully if this is true it could mean a larger Iraq (relationally speaking) and not a larger Iran and all the implications that would put on the table.

Speakup on May 12, 2007 at 9:13 PM

HAKIM TO BUSH The Iraqi situation has been subjected to a great deal of defamation, and the true picture is not being presented in order to show a dark side of what’s happening in Iraq. We see the attempts to defame and distort the situation in Iraq not taking into consideration the democratic steps that that country has taken, writing the constitution and establishing a state that depends heavily on the constitution, that it is unified and that it is strong. There are attempts to show the sectarian strife in an attempt to weaken the position in Iraq. SONNYSPATS Hope springs eternal!

sonnyspats1 on May 12, 2007 at 9:31 PM

This is positioning for an anticipated US pullout.

No one wants to be the next most foreign element in Iraq after the Brits and US are gone.

John on May 12, 2007 at 9:36 PM

It’s not important whether SCIRI is sincere. What matters is that they think this is good for their image in Iraq. That tells you what they think of where the Iraqi street is.

P.S. A semantic change is a change in meaning. A change in how something is stated without changing the meaning is a syntactic change.

Annoying Old Guy on May 12, 2007 at 10:09 PM

posturing

Wade on May 12, 2007 at 10:24 PM

I’ve been waiting for this to happen. Traditionally through history, the center of Shiite culture has been in Iraq. Najaf is the key city in that sect of Islam. In history, the center of shiite thought and doctrine was whoever was the ayatollah in Najaf. Saddam oppressed the shiites and stopped the annual pilgrimages. Iran became the active center of shiism. Now that Iraq has been removed from under Saddam’s thumb, Iraq will again regain its place in that sect of Islam. There is a battle going on for who is going to control the Iraqi shiites. The Iranians do not want to lose their place as the center of Shiite culture but it really has no choice.

There is about to be a full blown struggle for control of Najaf. If Najaf ends up being under the control of the Iranian ayatollahs, we lose. If Najaf ends up being under the control of Sistani, we (and the rest of the world) wins.

Placing Sistani as their head spiritual leader is an end run around Sadr who is not an Ayatollah. The Iranians will now need to bring Sistani under their control or eliminate him and make sure the replacement Ayatollah is subordinate to the Iranian Ayatollah.

Overall, this is GREAT NEWS.

crosspatch on May 12, 2007 at 10:51 PM

Which makes this a rather atomic bombshell:

Or just more smoke and mirrors, me thinks?

Lawrence on May 12, 2007 at 11:13 PM

Where is the modern Muslim equivalent of Napolean? He rid Franch/Europe of Papal rule way back in the day. What secular Middle East figure is there who could do the same today?

Is it just that the Muslim cult is so obsessed with submission that they simply cannot throw off the yolks of tyranny as the West did centuries ago?

Mojave Mark on May 12, 2007 at 11:18 PM

This is positioning for an anticipated US pullout.

No one wants to be the next most foreign element in Iraq after the Brits and US are gone.

John on May 12, 2007 at 9:36 PM

I hope we’re out of there. My cousin’s there for the third time (15 months this time) and my buddy’s heading over there in the fall with a SEAL det. I’d rather they not die for a bunch of Arabs that want nothing else than to kill one another and their liberators.

PRCalDude on May 12, 2007 at 11:20 PM

Interesting stuff. Wouldn’t it be something if something “unfortunate” happened to Sadr while he was in Iran?

CP on May 12, 2007 at 11:30 PM

Traditionally through history, the center of Shiite culture has been in Iraq.
crosspatch on May 12, 2007 at 10:51 PM

Clausewitz, center of gravity. There’s so much talk of oil and things like that, but the Fertile Crescent is a much more fundamental hub than just that.

Typewriter King on May 12, 2007 at 11:50 PM

There’s some kind of metaphor here regarding the Mafia and their ever changing “legitimate business fronts” to launder money. I would expand on such a metaphor, but unlike Hitchens, I’m less coherent after drinking.

They’ve dropped a word from their name, but I don’t think it changes their main goals at all.

Krydor on May 13, 2007 at 1:00 AM

I think a great strategic move would be to turn Najaf into something like a Vatican City. Put the Grand Ayatollah in charge and make it a holy city for the Shiites. The Iranians would go absolutely NUTS as the center of Shiite theology shifted from Qom, in Iran to Najaf in Iraq.

crosspatch on May 13, 2007 at 1:11 AM

P.S. A semantic change is a change in meaning. A change in how something is stated without changing the meaning is a syntactic change.

Since we’re splitting hairs, this does involve syntax, but that’s not what’s significant here. Syntax isn’t concerned with the meanings at all, just with the formal mechanics of the words and letters. That dropping “Revolutionary” from the group’s title entails shortening it by 13 letters would be an example of a syntactic observation about SCIRI’s name change. It’s true, but it’s not significant.

If word (or phrase) A refers to (or denotes) something, and it’s being replaced with word (or phrase) B to refer to (or denote) the same thing, there are indeed syntactic differences being created. But the significant development is that word (or phrase) B has gained a new referent (or denotation). That’s a semantic change involving B.

Blacklake on May 13, 2007 at 1:33 AM

Sistani sucks.

Failing to install a secular Constitution doomed the entire enterprise.

Allowing our soldiers to die doing what Iraqis, by now, should be doing is military folly.

Instead of patrols riding around looing to be IED’d, the regiongs should be carpetbombed if any of our troops are attacked there.

Poosyfooting in wartime is bad policy.

To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt:

Either go in hard, or expect to limp away.

profitsbeard on May 13, 2007 at 1:50 AM

For some odd reason, parties whose names include the phrase “for the Islamic Revolution” don’t inspire much confidence in me. I thought it was the Islamic revolution we were supposed to be eliminating, not making deals with?

Halley on May 13, 2007 at 2:04 AM

sisatani is an idiot..I went to his site and all he talks about is what one must do in muslimhood…he conveniently leaves out waht one must do if one doesn’t follow that.

Nice try sistani, I don’t fall for your bullshit.

Highrise on May 13, 2007 at 3:51 AM

sisatani is an idiot..I went to his site and all he talks about is what one must do in muslimhood…he conveniently leaves out waht one must do if one doesn’t follow that.

Nice try sistani, I don’t fall for your bullshit.

Highrise on May 13, 2007 at 3:51 AM

Everybody check out http://www.sistani.org. Real eye-opener.

PRCalDude on May 13, 2007 at 12:04 PM

Or, of course, it could all be a big ruse concocted by Iran to make its puppet look a bit less wooden and more like a real boy, possibly to give it more leverage with the U.S., even while it continues to pull the strings.

That would be my view. They want a caliphate. Don’t believe anything else.

Connie on May 13, 2007 at 12:10 PM

“Everything I say is a lie. Is that statement true or false?” Iraqi Kremlinology posts, indeed!

I put more stock in tidbits like this from the ny slimes times; dead seconds; continueing
red on red
, and the ever popular Kano lesbians on the lam.

“SCIRI splits” still might be an interesting turn in the tide though.

locomotivebreath1901 on May 13, 2007 at 6:08 PM

Sistani might be an idiot but he is MUCH LESS of an idiot than the Iranian Ayatollahs. The idea would be to lend greater credibility to someone who supports the notion of secular elected government.

crosspatch on May 13, 2007 at 6:18 PM

You’re using the word “or” quite a bit and I understand why. It’s a very complex political situation.

Although it still shows a lack of separation of church/state in Iraq, this development does further isolate Mookie, who’s physical presence in Iran does not help his cause. Afterall, he’s the guy who’s been causing much of the Shiite trouble while Sistani has been a more moderate voice.

However, Sistani’s go-slow approach to the much needed legislation that would serve to unify Iraqis still bothers me.

All things considered, if Iraqi factions and religious groups are motivated by their national identity, this is no doubt a good omen for future progress.

CliffHanger on May 13, 2007 at 9:38 PM

Here’s one of the good news pieces you won’t see in the Communist MSM.

lynnv on May 14, 2007 at 8:29 AM