Sistani suspends protests against US plans

Iraq's leading Shia cleric has called a halt to rallies for direct elections and against US plans for handing over power.

    Sistani is the highest Shia authority in Iraq

    Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani said on Friday that the United Nations should be granted

    time to study whether polls are possible.

    But in a move that could undermine Sistani's apparent

    flexibility, fellow Shia leader Muqtada Sadr branded the United

    Nations a "dishonest" body that served America's agenda and had no

    role to play in future Iraqi elections.

    Sistani and Sadr have brought tens of thousands of Shias onto

    the streets over the past week as the emerging weight of Iraq's

    religious majority, held back under Saddam Hussein, was brought to

    bear on occupation authorities.

    The protests have prompted Washington to consider a compromise

    on a power transfer timetable agreed on 15 November

     that envisages

    an unelected provisional government to take control of Iraq by 30 June

    .

    Sheikh Abd al Mahdi al-Karbalai said the plea to suspend

    demonstrations was endorsed by the marjaiya, four clerics who

    represent Iraq's highest Shia religious authority.

    UN Iraq mission 

    "I refuse the participation of the United Nations in supervising

    elections, because it is not honest and it follows America...

    The meeting between the so-called Governing Council and the

    occupier does not represent any religion or any of the Iraqi

    people's parties

    "

    Muqtada Sadr,
    Shia cleric

    Sistani's representative in the central city of Karbala told

    worshippers at Friday prayers that it was "vital today to wait until

    the United States and the UN clarify their positions on election

    procedure".

    US occupation overseer Paul Bremer and members of the US-installed Iraqi

    interim Governing Council held talks on Monday with UN chief Kofi

    Annan.

    The Najaf-based cleric was briefed on Monday's New York talks by the main

    Shia political party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic

    Revolution in Iraq, a

    spokesman for the party said.

    "I told Sistani that the UN mission (to assess the feasibility

    of elections) would take place in the coming days. The Ayat Allah

    insisted on the need for elections and we assured him that they will

    take place before June," said Hamid al-Bayati.

    UN 'not honest'

    Meanwhile, in Kufa, Sadr

    was stoking resentment towards both the United Nations and United

    States, lambasting Monday's talks as potentially harmful for Iraq

    .

    "I refuse the participation of the United Nations in supervising

    elections, because it is not honest and it follows America," said

    Sadr.

    "The meeting between the so-called Governing Council and the

    occupier does not represent any religion or any of the Iraqi

    people's parties.

    The cleric, whose prominent father was killed under Saddam's

    regime, also called for the formation of a unified religious body to

    draft an "Islamic constitution" for Iraq.

    "I refuse the participation of America in elections and the

    drafting of a constitution," he said.

    Chalabi says US plans for Iraq 
    may lead to instability 

    Chalabi's call 

    Under the 15 November agreement, Iraq will be ruled under a

    temporary constitution, or fundamental law, which does not envisage

    full elections until late 2005.

    In another development, a leading pro-US member of

    Iraq's Governing Council has also called for direct elections

    before the July

     handover of power.

    Ahmad Chalabi urged Washington on Friday to give in

    to popular demand because its transition plan could destabilise

    the country.

    Chalabi, who has close ties to the Bush

    administration, said elections were possible, thus increasing

    pressure on Washington to change its stance that there was no

    time to organise a vote.

    He warned that the US-preferred alternative of indirect

    elections in caucuses was a "sure fire way to have instability"

    because it could produce weak leaders who are not

    representative of the people.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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