Iraq Shi'ites say late polls will lead to violence
Iraqi Shi'ites near their holiest shrine said Thursday if the United States wanted to avoid yet more violence in Iraq, it should heed their most revered religious leader's calls for early elections.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for polls to be held before June 30 when the United States plans to hand over sovereignty to Iraqis, but Washington says there is not enough time and wants an appointed interim administration instead.
United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said after meeting Sistani that they had agreed elections should be held when conditions were right, but did not say when.
"We don't trust the United States and the United Nations is a toy in its hands," said teacher Mustapha al-Majidi in Najaf, home to the tomb of Imam Ali, Shia Islam's holiest shrine.
"If a government is formed without elections, then it will bring about violent opposition, as it would be illegitimate," he said. "Only elections will bring security."
Shi'ites make up some 60 percent of Iraqis but were long oppressed by ousted President Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim.
Resistance to the U.S. occupation has been strongest in Sunni areas, but some people in the town of Najaf warned that more Shi'ites would rise up if they were not given what they see as their right to reclaim political dominance.
"I expect the Americans don't want to open a new front such as the one opened in the Sunni areas," said Islamic scholar Malek al-Mansouri.
"People's passions are running high and there is a strong readiness to fight for our hopes and aspirations," said Ali Rida, a garments trader.
"YES TO ELECTIONS"
Sistani has refused to meet any U.S. officials and has not left his modest two-story house in Najaf in years.Shi'ites are obliged to follow the guidance of a top cleric -- "a source of emulation" -- on everything from spiritual to domestic affairs. Sistani issues edicts through intermediaries.
Tens of thousands protested across Iraq this year to back Sistani's call for early elections. And scores showed their support as Brahimi came to visit the aging white bearded cleric who claims descent from the prophet Mohammed.
"Yes to elections and no to an appointed government," the crowd chanted.
"America lets its own people have elections, but doesn't allow Islamic states to give this freedom to their own people," said Abbas Musawi, a bookstore owner.
Like many, he doubted Washington had Iraq's best interests at heart. "It's impossible America will put in a leader who represents the Iraqi people," he said. "He will be someone who works for U.S. interests like all the other rulers in the Arab world."