28 November 2003

Top cleric derails US plan for Iraq

Washington's plan to turn over power in Iraq more quickly has been thrown into disarray, with the country's most powerful cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, making public his opposition to a proposal for indirect elections.

'All of us are groping around right now,' a US official said in Washington, conceding that the plan worked out this month by the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, would have to be revised.

Spokesmen for Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who exercises strong influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, said he insisted that the election, planned for June, be a direct ballot and not the caucus-style vote called for in the US plan. He also insisted that the new Iraqi government have a more overtly Islamic character.

'The people should have a basic role in issues concerning the destiny of their country,' said Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric and politician. He discussed the US proposal with Grand Ayatollah Sistani on Tuesday, he said.

The Bush administration has abolished irony.

Despite their bravado about setting Iraq to rights they need a Shi'ite cleric to tell them that a direct election is better than an opaque and unaccountable caucus. The direct election problems identified by the CPA are not insurmountable. I'm sure the AEC could set up a transparent electoral system fairly quickly.

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