And so this idiotic saga of “did he or didn’t he,” launched by Sadr’s announcement that he’d disband the JAM if Shiite clerics told him to, reaches its absurd conclusion. Because Sistani won’t talk to the press himself, we’re left to divine his intentions from intermediaries. Surprise: Sadr’s people say he gave them the thumbs up and Sadr’s chief rivals for Shiite supremacy say he gave them the thumbs down. Sort of. The thumbs up version:

The influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr said his clerical advisers, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, rejected calls to disband the Mahdi Army.

Salah al-Obaidi, the spokesman for Sadr, said the cleric issued his decision in a statement following a meeting with Sistani and Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri in Qom, Iran.

The statement reiterated Sadr’s call for an end to the apparent politically motivated violence in Iraq by urging all parties to solve their issues through comprehensive dialogue, Voices of Iraq said.

And the thumbs down, via Bill Roggio:

Leading figure in Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council [i.e. SCIRI], Jalal el-Din al-Saghier, said on Tuesday that dissolving the al-Mahdi army is Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s responsibility, asserting that top Shiite Cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has nothing to do with this militia as al-Sadr did not consult the SIIC when he established it.

“Al-Sistani has a clear opinion in this regard; the law is the only authority in the country,” al-Saghier told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI)…

“Al-Sistani asked al-Mahdi army to give in weapons to the government,” the Shiite official said.

Whom to believe? They’re not absolutely contradictory; it’s possible that the clerics want him to disarm but will leave the disbanding up to him, although that read seems a bit overly nuanced given the politics at stake here. In which case … whom to believe? It’s worth noting that I can’t find the thumbs up version on the VOI website, although UPI’s a credible enough agency that I’ll take their word that it’s there. Even so there are still two problems. First, the source is Salah al-Obeidi, whose story seems to change by the hour: Initially he said Iraq’s Shiite clerics refused to order Sadr to disband, then he said Sadr had never asked them in the first place, now he’s claiming that Sadr did ask them and, whaddaya know, they’re on his side. Second, note that the meeting between him, Sistani, and Haeri allegedly took place in Iran. My understanding is that Sistani rarely leaves Najaf, and almost certainly wouldn’t be at the beck and call of a low-level punk like Sadr, whatever political power he may wield. He might have been in Qom on other business since it is, after all, a Shiite holy city, but I can’t find any reports on the wires about him traveling. In fact, two days ago Reuters reported that Sadr was forming a delegation to visit Sistani — in Najaf. Maybe they met and convinced him to come back with them to Iran for talk? Or maybe it’s just a big pile of Muq-brand bullshinola. Either way, sounds like he’s keeping his army.