The Sistani supremacy

There was once a time - seems a lifetime ago - when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's foremost Shiite cleric, seemed the most indispensable man in all of that tortured land. He forced the United States to accept one-person, one-vote elections in Iraq, making his case by bringing thousands of protestors to the street; he compelled wildcard Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to agree to a peace plan that would force armed fighters and foreign forces from the cities of Najaf and Kuba.

Sistani was the most revered figure in the Shia sphere and the closest thing to a national figure to be found in Iraq - but his rather deliberate style and non-violent approach did not sway the embittered young and poor among the Shia who desired vengeance against their Sunni rivals and the American occupier. The star of the firebrand Sadr was bound to rise in such an environment, favored as he became by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. In comparison, Sistani receded from view, his comparative influence waning - until now.

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