Could Muslim clerics of competing sects come together to issue a fatwa against violent jihad? The US and the Anglican church in Iraq hope that they can shepherd it into reality. After working together for months in places like Cairo and Denmark, Shi’ite and Sunni clerics will issue a religious ruling that violent jihad is anti-Islamic. The fatwa could force radicals to at least an intellectual defensive and hinder recruitment for suicide bombers and terrorists:

High-ranking Shiite and Sunni leaders are preparing to issue a religious decree condemning suicide bombings and other forms of violence, according to an Anglican minister who has led efforts to bring the two Muslim sects closer.

The draft decree, also called a fatwa, cites Quranic verses and says, “The prophet Mohammed prevents the spilling of blood, Muslim against Muslim, and thus suicide bombings are totally prohibited,” said the Rev. Canon Andrew White during a dinner Monday with Pentagon officials. The draft calls on Iraqis “to reject and forsake all violence, forsake all killing and provocation,” White said.

“What is new is that this will be a fatwa from Shiite and Sunni,” White said in an interview. “It’s not going to solve all of our problems, but it’s the beginning of the process towards the reduction of violence.”

How seriously does the US take this? Very seriously. According to USA Today, the Pentagon has worked on this project for four years, and last August they finally reached some kind of general agreement on the merits with the council. They have paid the bills for the meetings and the travel, and have worked with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and other notable clerics to build credibility for the effort. One aide to Robert Gates calls it a “tour de force”.

Perhaps. The connection to the Pentagon and to the Anglican Church may have a slightly deleterious impact on the credibility of the group, assuming they actually issue the fatwa. The Maliki government’s long-overdue push to eliminate the Mahdi Army militia may crack the alliance that came together to consider the question of violent jihad. Even if the group does publicly oppose violence and suicide attacks, it will not stop Osama bin Laden, Baitullah Mehsud, and Ayman al-Zawahiri from conducting their lunatic attacks on Muslims and infidels alike.

It could provide at least a start towards the elimination of the radical impulse in Islam, however. That has to have a beginning, and a convocation of respected Muslim clerics from the epicenter of the jihadist war would at least get the attention of a wide number of Arabs. In order for it to have real impact, though, the group would need to get the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia to take the same stand, and to do so willingly rather than by fiat of the royal family.

It certainly isn’t bad news. As for a tour de force … let’s see how it works in the real world.

Update: This fatwa specifically addresses Muslim-on-Muslim violence, our great friend Robert Spencer notes.  However, I’d doubt that Muslims would start off by including infidels in such a fatwa.  It’s still a start, and if Muslims would stop killing other Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could start addressing the infrastructure needs that could stabilize both countries permanently.