Sistani rules, again
I haven’t seen much discussion of this AP report that Ayatollah Sistani is likely to call for a withdrawal of US troops after the elections on December 15 (found via Juan Cole).
It’s unclear whether this is an accurate report of Sistani’s intentions, a trial balloon, or an attempt by some in his circle to create a fait accompli. But assuming the report is accurate, it seems clear, as Cole says, that any attempt to resist such a demand from Sistani would be futile, especially now that the Sadrists, still violently opposed to the occupation, are likely to play a large role in the new government. Nevertheless, the US, backed by current PM Jaafari is currently seeking a 12-month extension of the occupation mandate from the UN, instead of the 6-month extensions sought previously.
It’s not obvious why the Bush Administration would want to resist a demand for a withdrawal timetable. There’s never going to be a better opportunity to declare victory and pull out.
It seems unlikely that, in the event of a US pullout, the insurgents could regain power. On the other hand, it’s very likely to lead further in the direction of de facto or de jure partition, with the Kurds effectively seceding, Shiites controlling both the central government and a Shiite bloc of provinces and insurgents of one kind or another running large parts of the country, and continuing to wreak substantial havoc. This could lead to civil war. But that outcome seems even more likely if the US occupation continues.