Wins Sistani’s Blessing as Future Iraqi Prime Minister

After months of secret talks, interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has won Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani‘s blessing as leader of the government to rise in Baghdad after the January 27 general election. This is revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Baghdad. While accepting that Iraq will be ruled in future by himself, Allawi and US ambassador John Negroponte, Sistani has effectively anointed himself center of power and kingmaker.

This tight group until recently included Robert Blackwill, special Iraq affairs adviser to President George W. Bush. However, Blackwill resigned after a falling out with the incoming secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Bush has not yet decided whether to name a replacement or to hand the Iraqi arena over to the next secretary of state, which he refrained from doing during the tenure of Colin Powell.

Regarding the post-election lineup, Sistani has informed Allawi and Washington that although a Shiite majority in the legislature and government is a foregone conclusion given their numbers, he has no wish to see a clerical regime in power on the Iranian model. In fact he would prefer clerics to stay out of government. At the same time, he insisted that Shiite spiritual leaders (i.e. himself) be consulted and heeded on crucial decisions of state.

Clearly, his backing for Allawi’s bid to head next government is conditional on the prime minister not acting counter to Sistani’s views.

A figure who has practically disappeared from the Iraqi political stage is the president. Ghazi al Yawar, himself a Sunni, was strongly opposed to the US-Iraqi Fallujah offensive and objected to its endorsement by prime minister Allawi. Had he come out in public against the operation, together with a threat to resign, he would have carried considerable weight and been backed by Arab governments. However, a public confrontation would also have put Washington and the American military command in an impossible position. Therefore, the Americans, Sistani, Allawi and Kurdish leaders bent all their powers of persuasion to deterring him from taking a stand. But his position is known and efforts are now directed at dissuading him from stepping down before the January election.

Next week, he is scheduled to pay a state visit to Paris.

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