Sistani rising

May 27, 2008 at 8:38 PM
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NAJAF, Iraq, May 27 (UPI) -- With the militancy of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr seemingly tamed by the Iraqi government, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani may be making a comeback.

The Iraqi government signed a truce with Sadr May 12. Last week, however, both Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker shuffled off to the Shiite holy city of Najaf, casting the venerated grand ayatollah into the spotlight.

Sistani positioned himself as the voice of moderation at the beginning of the Iraq conflict in 2003, but his clout diminished with Sadr leading his Mehdi Army against the U.S. "occupiers," Time magazine said in an online piece during the weekend.

With Sadr quietly pacified by his clerical studies and peace deals, however, Sistani's influence is proving to be a model of resiliency.

Crocker was in Najaf amid reports that Sistani was losing patience with the U.S. pace of reconstruction in Iraq, while Maliki emerged from his meeting with Sistani Thursday with vague pledges of support, signaling a possible political play by the reclusive cleric.

"Sistani emphasized that everything should be done to get back total sovereignty on all levels," said Sheik Abdul Mehdi al-Karbala'e at Friday prayers.

All this comes amid reports that Sistani issued various fatwas, or religious rulings, permitting violence against U.S. forces, though a statement from Sistani's office in Najaf called that claim "baseless."

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