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Sistani, the United States and Politics in Iraq:


From Quietism to Machiavellianism?

It is often claimed that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the most important person in Iraqi politics today. But there is less agreement on exactly what kind of political ideology the ayatollah stands for. Two dominant paradigms for understanding Sistani are explored in this paper: is he a “quietist” or is he a Machiavellian prince? The discussion also covers Sistani’s stand on contentious issues like sectarianism, federalism, the implementation of the Sharia Islamic law in an Islamic state, and the Khomeini-inspired principle of wilayat al-faqih (“the rule of the jurisprudent”). On many of these issues, it is possible to identify certain trends in Sistani’s attitude. But there are also aspects of politics where Sistani’s positions remain shrouded in secrecy, or where it may be incorrect to assume that Sistani should be interested in getting involved at all. In conclusion, Sistani’s role as a professional cleric – rather than as an Iraqi politician – is emphasised.

"Visser debunks the notion of a 'quietist' orientation for Sistani."
—Ali A. Allawi, former Iraqi defence minister, writing in The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace


—Toby Dodge, Queen Mary College, University of London

“Illuminating research on Sistani.”

—Mehdi Khalaji, author of The Last Marja


Full details of publication:
Reidar Visser, "Sistani, the United States and Politics in Iraq: From Quietism to Machiavellianism?" (NUPI Paper no. 700, Oslo: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, March 2006, 32 pages).

SISTANI PAPER, FULL TEXT (PDF file, 456 KB, download may take a few minutes)

Commentary on the 27 April 2006 pronouncement by Sistani on the formation of a new Iraqi government

السيستاني والولايات المتحدة والشأن السياسي في العراق

من السكوتية الى الميكافيلية؟

خلاصة ترجمة لدراسة بحثية اصلية بقلم رايدر فيسر

 اعداد: المراكز العراقي للبحوث والدراسات المستقبلية ومؤلف الدراسة

[This abridged and slightly updated version in Arabic has been prepared in consultation with the author for publication in Iraq in the journal of the Iraqi Centre for Future Studies, a new research centre directed by Shaykh Humam Hammudi, the chairman of Iraq’s constitutional committee of 2005.]