Michael Ledeen notes some excellent and striking analysis bt Steve Schippert at Threatswatch.
–Fifth, that there are cracks in the regime’s edifice, ranging from
declarations of small groups of Revolutionary Guards calling on their
brothers to defect to “the people,” to a phenomenon that is just
beginning to be discussed here and there, mostly on the Net but
originally in an Arab newspaper. Steve Schippert posted
on it and did a first-class analysis. Steve starts with a report from
al Arabiya that says senior ayatollahs have been meeting secretly in
Qom to discuss significant changes in the structure of the Iranian
state. In addition to the Iranian clerics, there was a foreigner:
Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.
If this is true, it is, as Steve says, huge. Because it means that
senior religious leaders in Iran are talking to the representative of
an Iraqi Imam who believes, as most Shi’ites did before Khomeini’s
heresy, that the proper role of religious leaders is to guide their
people from the mosque, not from the political capital. In other
words, they are talking about the most serious form of regime change.
More from Steve
My ears first perked up when word made it through the grapevines
over the weekend that Rafsanjani had been meeting with other Ayatollahs
and clerics in Qom, and had among them a representative of Iraq's
Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
Why? Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in 2007 made two very critical
statements: that "I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference
between a Sunni, a Shiite or a Kurd or a Christian," and that Islam can
exist within a democracy without theological conflict. You will never
hear such words slip past the lips of Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei. Ever.
In November 2007 at National Review Online,
I wrote about this aspect of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, including a
reference to another analysis I had written earlier in the spring.
In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the
revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the
traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over
the Shi'a faith. While the Khomeinist revolutionary Khameini clearly
believes in Shi'a theocracy, the Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani believes that
the faith can exist within a democracy without theological conflict.
And while the Iranians work to spin the growing Sunni tribal rejection
of al-Qaeda as Americans "negotiating with terrorists," Sistani himself
has always had open channels of communication with American forces and
the Iraqi government.
Why does this matter for Iran and Iranians? Pay close attention
here, for Iraq's Sistani carries great weight among the Iranian Shi'a
Sistani's appeal does not end at the Iraqi border, as
Iranians increasingly observe his leadership with interest and
fondness. Some are "intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in
Shi'ite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq," which is
fundamentally different in approach than the Iranian theocratic brand
of dictated observance and obedience. The Boston Globe's Anne Barnard
reports that within Tehran's own central bazaar, "an increasing number
of merchants are sending their religious donations, a 20 percent tithe
expected from all who can spare it, to Iraq's most senior Shi'ite
Go read all of the piece, but the pure flavor is that Iraqi liberal democracy is compatible with Islam and the Iranian people are noticining how much better that is. Are we seeing the first examples of vindication of George W Bush? Maybe, time will tell, but the signs Steve mentions are clear and telling evidence especially alongside the actions of the people willing to die to live free.