Contrary to memes that Iraq is going to heck in a handbasket, the Shiites are getting their…stuff together.
When I first read the headline, I assumed a Shiite delegation would be going to Muqtada as-Sadr, the Shiite militia leader, to ask for a ceasefire. But I was wrong. The Shiites wanted the blessing of the senior-most Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatullah as-Sayyid Ali al-Husseini as-Sistani, for a ceasefire. They then plan to speak with as-Sadr about him joining the mainstream, whereby the Shiites would be able to get him to reign his militias in.
Meeting as-Sistani is a significant step because if he gives his blessing, not only will the Shiite bloc in the Iraqi government gain legitimacy but it would be incumbent upon Shiites to support the bloc. After all, as a cleric, the Grand Ayatullah is acting in persona Imami, on behalf of and in the person of the Hidden Imam. To disobey or go against the Grand Ayatullah would be to disobey or go against the Imam, which is tantamount to apostasy from Islam as far as Shiites are concerned.
This is also significant because this means that Shiite politics may be swinging from militant Irani-backed Sadrists to quietist stability-promoting Iraqi Shiites.
I don’t know how as-Sadr would respond, but it would be quite difficult for him to maintain his legitimacy and popular support if he essentially spurns an endeavor blessed by the Grand Ayatullah himself. Although as-Sadr has significant issues with the clerical authorities, for reasons of religious legitimacy he cannot splinter off explicitly or blatantly. I hope Shiites use this as a tool to bludgeon him into submission.
By the way, the author of the article – (قاسم عبد الزهراء, qāsim ‛abdu-z-zahrā’) Qassim Abdul-Zahra – you can’t get a more Shiite name than that. In fact, it would be considered blasphemous by Sunnis. (عبد, ‛abd) means “servant” or “slave,” and (الزهراء, az-zahrā’) is a feminine adjective meaning “the radiant” and is an epithet of (فاطمة بنت محمد, fāTimah bint muHammad) Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter and Ali’s wife, whom Shiites revere. Technically, one can only use one of God’s 99 names in Islam after (عبد, ‛abd), otherwise it would be considered idolatry or polytheism.
Let’s see how this plays out. In any case, that a political coalition is forming among Shiites that rejects as-Sadr’s militancy is a significant development indeed. Now if only the Sunnis would follow suit.