"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."
Al-Sistani's aides say that he has chosen to stay silent rather than suffer the ignominy of being ignored. Ali al-Jaberi, a spokesman for the cleric in Khadamiyah, said that he was furious that his followers had turned away from him and ignored his calls for moderation.
Asked whether Ayatollah al-Sistani could prevent a civil war, Mr al-Jaberi replied: "Honestly, I think not. He is very angry, very disappointed."
He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani's decision. "He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him," he said. "After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad."
This, to put it lightly, is a problem.
Ali al-Sistani is probably the most respected Shi'ite leader in all of Iraq. He has, from the start, been a voice in favor of peace and democracy in Iraq. Not that he's perfect of course. But as I wrote over a year and a half ago, "If anybody can hold the country together while negotiating a reasonable US departure time, it is him." I'm not the only one who thinks so. David Ignatius saw the warning signs a month ago, warning in July that:
He has been our crucial ally. He is very quiet. You don't see him, he doesn't give speeches, he doesn't meet with Americans. But if he decides the game is up, the game is up.
Matt Yglesias believes that Sistani could have been the "silver bullet" that got us out of this jam. Certainly, I can't imagine that he wouldn't have had to play a crucial role in the Bosnia-esque peace summit that Tom Friedman thinks is our last best hope. Even conservative Jonah Goldberg admits "it sure doesn't sound good."
No, it doesn't. And I think this might be the straw that breaks the camel's back, with regards to Iraq's future.
Via Steve Benen.