After Najef, Ayatollah Sistani Goes for Fallujah Ceasefire

Encouraged by his success in brokering a ceasefire in Najef between radical Shiite Moqtada Sadr‘s rebel militia and US-backed Iraqi government forces, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is now testing his mediating prowess in the Sunni hotbed town of Fallujah. With enthusiastic backing from prime minister Iyad Allawi, the senior Shiite cleric has plunged into negotiations with the uncrowned king of Fallujah, Abu Abdullah.

In contrast to Sadr, Abu Abdullah is a highly erudite Sunni cleric who enjoys the respect of most of the fighting factions of Fallujah, except for al Qaeda and the foreign Arab fighters, as well as most of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims, including the Sunni clerics of Samarra, Ramadi and Balad. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Iraq, while Abu Abdullah’s fighting faction is based on Fedayeen units once loyal to Saddam Hussein, the American First Task Force surrounding Fallujah and US warplanes pounding the city nightly are careful to stay clear of him and his men in the hope of good results from Sistani’s negotiations that will save them having to go in and capture the city of 300,000 inhabitants.

Sistani has offered Abu Abdullah an arrangement for Falujah, Samarra, Ramadi and Balad drawn on the same lines as the deal that ended Sadr’s armed rebellion in Najef. It is based on setting up an “anti-American regime that is non-violent.”

Iraqi guerrillas will be required to disarm. However, as in Najef and Baghdad’s Sadr City, only a portion of the weapons will be collected by Iraqi government troops, the rest retained by most of the insurgents. American forces will not enter the Sunni cities, which is the status quo anyway. US troops near the Sunni towns will draw back leaving small units in position.

In return, the Iraqi guerrillas will halt their attacks on US forces.

The prevailing view of US intelligence is that if Sistani pulls off a deal on these lines, and they rate his chances of doing so within days as fairly high, Iraqi insurgent attacks on US forces will cease not only in the Sunni Triangle but also in the Sunni districts of Baghdad. The only active assailants left will be al Qaeda. For this reason, the heavy US air strikes in Fallujah and offensive against Tel Afar west of Mosul have been directed against al Qaeda targets. Tel Afar is a staging post for terrorists and Arab fighters stealing in from Syria. American military planners are determined to cut down al Qaeda’s strength in Iraq as far as possible, before Sistani winds up a deal with Abu Abdullah.

The Fallujah cleric was persuaded to be amenable to reaching a settlement quickly when he saw Sadr’s present situation.

As soon as the fighting ended in Najef in mid-August, the rebel Shiite cleric disappeared and has not been heard of since. There are rumors that he went to ground in a prepared hideout, or returned to Iran. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources can disclose that he never left his home in Najef, where he lives under Ayatollah Sistani’s protection, surrounded by the senior cleric’s trusted men.

Sistani is offering to extend his personal protection to the Sunni cleric as well.

Thursday, September 9, US 1st Division troops began entering Samarra. Our sources report that the move was intended as an accelerant for the Sistani-Abu Abdullah negotiations. Furthermore, if the talks fail to reach a conclusion, the US military presence in Samarra will signal the start of the US autumn offensive which DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in the planning in previous issues.

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