The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war.Sistani has been incredibly useful to the occupation forces. He preaches a persuasion of the Shia faith where clerics do not get directly involved with politics, and his influence in that regard helped dissuade Iraq adopting an outright theocracy. And that's just for starters:
Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.
"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."
The cleric is regarded as the most important Shia religious leader in Iraq and has been a moderating influence since the invasion of 2003. He ended the fighting in Najaf between Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army and American forces in 2004 and was instrumental in persuading the Shia factions to fight the 2005 elections under the single banner of the United Alliance.Without Sistani constantly preaching moderation and restraint, one of the few brakes on the increasing sectarian violence has been removed. The consequences of this stretch out in front of us like the rolling ocean.