The year 2004 saw the evolution of the Shii involvement. If the insurgency was complicated enough in its origins and its ongoing hostilities, Shii participation eventually brought Iraq to a state of civil war. While the two most inﬂ uential Iraqi Shii leaders took different approaches to the occupation, they were both opposed to foreign rule in their country. One of these was the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, son of the murdered grand ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr.
Moqtada al-Sadr inherited the populist Shii movement built by his father and turned it into a potent force following the fall of the Baathist regime. In April 2004, al-Sadr called on his Mahdi Army to defend their fellow Shiis from the occupation and from the CPA’s allies among the Iraqi security forces. The Mahdi Army soon had control not only of Sadr City (a section of Baghdad) but the cities of Basra, Kufa, Najaf, and Nasiriya. It also provided an effective counterbalance to Sunni aggression. The strength of his militia was to be a major factor in al-Sadr’s political inﬂ uence in the coming years.
In Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani had been plotting a different oppositionist course for more than a year. Although he ordered an end to criminal activity and revenge killings, he also ordered “the ulema of Iraq not to accept any positions of administrative or executive responsibility in any layer of government” (Allawi 207, 168). Al-Sistani also called for elections for a national assembly that would then write Iraq’s new constitution. This was a response to Bremer’s technocratic proposal that the new constitution be drawn up by Iraqi experts.
Al-Sistani, perhaps, feared that Shii concerns would be underrepresented by these experts, or perhaps the oligarchic nature of Bremer’s proposal struck him as hypocritical of the coalition’s stated intentions for the invasion. More important, though, al-Sistani was interested in preserving the Islamic nature of Iraq in the new government, and this contradicted the secular democracy the Bush administration and the CPA had in mind for Iraq. When his followers asked him for a religious ruling on the idea of the CPA’s panel of experts to write the Iraqi constitution, al-Sistani replied six days later:
Those forces have no jurisdiction whatsoever to appoint members of the Constitution preparation assembly. Also there is no guarantee either that this assembly will prepare a constitution that serves the best interests of the Iraqi people or that it expresses their national identity whose backbone is sound Islamic religion and noble social values.
The said plan is unacceptable from the outset. First of all there must be a general election so that every Iraqi citizen who is eligible to vote can choose someone to represent him in a foundational Constitution preparation assembly. Then the drafted Constitution can be put to a referendum. All believers must insist on the accomplishment of this crucial matter and contribute to achieving it in the best way possible (quoted in Allawi 2007, 204).
The words of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani carried so much weight they could not be ignored. Yet Washington, London, and the CPA sought a solution that was, in their eyes, a compromise. What came to be known as the November 15 Agreement (in which al-Sistani’s representatives did not participate) called for caucuses that would send members to a transitional assembly.
Of the agreement’s ﬁ ve basic provisions, this was the most contentious. The other four provisions called for the drafting of a constitution, a decision on the status of the coalition forces in Iraq, restoration of Iraqi sovereignty by June 30, 2004, and new elections for an Iraqi federal government—the Kurds insisted the new government be federal—by December 31, 2005.
Al-Sistani opposed the November 15 Agreement because it made no provision for elections to the transitional assembly, not to mention the method by which the new Iraqi constitution would be created. His veiled threats did not dissuade Bremer or the CPA from a little arm-twisting of their own; the Governing Council ratiﬁ ed the agreement, while the CPA did more than a little backroom lobbying “to raise the spectre of a Shi’a dominance of the political system” (Allawi 2007, 216).