by Eric Martin
Though a grain of salt is warranted (only reported in one outlet thus far, and an Iranian one at that), if true, this is absolutely huge:
The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite leader in Iraq on Tuesday rejected any security agreement with US, stressing such deal will affect the country's sovereignty.
In a meeting with Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq Al-Rubaie who was briefing al-Sistani in Najaf on the progress of the government's security efforts, and the talks on US security deal, Ayatollah said his country will not accept such a security deal which is seeking to justify the illegal presence of US military troops in the war-torn country.
Ayatollah Sistani's statements came after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday that Iraq was seeking a timetable for withdrawal of US troops as part of its negotiations with Washington on a controversial US security pact that guarantees long-term presence of the US troops in Iraq after the UN's mandate expires at the end of 2008.
If Sistani says go, we go. It's that simple.*
"There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless these bases are under Iraqi control," Rubaie said. "We would not accept any memorandum of understanding with [the U.S.] side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops' withdrawal from Iraq." [...]
Rubaie spoke to reporters after briefing Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite religious leader.
The timing of Rubaie's statements definitely creates the impression that Sistani is asserting himself yet again. Something to watch to say the least.]
(*yes, we could stay even if he says go, but his opposition would increase the costs of staying - both in terms of lives lost and resources expended - that even those ambivalent about withdrawal would be forced to concede to the harshness of reality. There would be a real risk of helicopters on rooftops and the like.)