Hot on the heels of Rumsfeld’s statement today:
“The Shia in Iraq are Iraqis they are not Iranians, and the idea that they are going to end up with a government like Iran with a handful of mullahs controlling the country, I think is unlikely,” Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
He said Iraq like other Muslim countries would find a way to include Islamic principles into the new constitution, which will be written after the results of last week’s elections are known, without having religion dominate the new government.
One cleric issued a statement setting out the position and the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites made it known straight away that he backed demands for the Koran to be the reference point for legislation.
The national assembly formed after last month’s historic elections is to oversee the drawing up of the new constitution and Sistani is the figurehead of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance expected to become the largest single bloc.
The role of Islam has been at the heart of months of debate between rival parties and factions as well as the US-led occupation authority which administered Iraq until last June.
Sistani leads the five most important clerics, known as marja al-taqlid, or objects of emulation, who had portrayed a more moderate stance going into the election.
The surprise statement was released by Sheikh Ibrahim Ibrahimi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayad, another of the marja.
“All of the ulema (clergy) and marja, and the majority of the Iraqi people, want the national assembly to make Islam the source of legislation in the permanent constitution and to reject any law that is contrary to Islam,” said the statement.
A source close to Sistani announced soon after the release of the statement that the spiritual leader backed the demand.
“The marja has priorities concerning the formation of the government and the constitution. It wants the source of legislation to be Islam,” said the source.
“We advise the government not to take decisions which would shock Muslims, such as the conscription of Muslims and the publication of their photos with foreign instructors,” Ibrahimi went on his statement.
“We warn officials against a separation of the state and religion, because this is completely rejected by the ulema and marja and we will accept no compromise on this question.
“If they (the government) want the stability and security of the country, they must not touch the country’s Islamic values and traditions,” the sheikh said.
Rumsfeld should have consulted with the guy running the joint before shooting his mouth off, now that Iraq has been “liberated.”