Iraq Shiite leaders demand Islam be the source of law
Iraq's Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and another top cleric staked out a radical demand that Islam be the sole source of legislation in the country's new constitution.
One cleric issued a statement setting out the position and the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites made it known straight away that he backed demands for the Koran to be the reference point for legislation.
The national assembly formed after last month's historic elections is to oversee the drawing up of the new constitution and Sistani is the figurehead of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance expected to become the largest single bloc.
The role of Islam has been at the heart of months of debate between rival parties and factions as well as the US-led occupation authority which administered Iraq until last June.
Sistani leads the five most important clerics, known as marja al-taqlid, or objects of emulation, who had portrayed a more moderate stance going into the election.
The surprise statement was released by Sheikh Ibrahim Ibrahimi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayad, another of the marja.
"All of the ulema (clergy) and marja, and the majority of the Iraqi people, want the national assembly to make Islam the source of legislation in the permanent constitution and to reject any law that is contrary to Islam," said the statement.
A source close to Sistani announced soon after the release of the statement that the spiritual leader backed the demand.
"The marja has priorities concerning the formation of the government and the constitution. It wants the source of legislation to be Islam," said the source.
"We advise the government not to take decisions which would shock Muslims, such as the conscription of Muslims and the publication of their photos with foreign instructors," Ibrahimi went on his statement.
"We warn officials against a separation of the state and religion, because this is completely rejected by the ulema and marja and we will accept no compromise on this question.
"If they (the government) want the stability and security of the country, they must not touch the country's Islamic values and traditions," the sheikh said.
The role of Islam was a particular sticking point when an interim constitution was drawn up under the US-led occupation.
After often acrimonious debate and the threat of a veto by US administrator Paul Bremer, the final version completed in March last year said that Islam should be "a source" of legislation.
No law that "contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam" would be accepted, said the final draft of the so-called "fundamental law".
Sistani and the other top clerics mainly live in the central holy city of Najaf.
On top of Sistani and Fayad, there are the ayatollahs Bashir al-Najafi and Mohammad Said Hakim. A fifth, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hairi, lives in Iran.
BAGHDAD (IRAQ), 02/05 (AFP) - Iraqi Shiite muslims celebrate their "169" party victory inside Buratha Shiite mosque decorated with candles, the symbol of the party, in Baghdad 05 February 2005. According to results announced 04 February, the United Iraqi Alliance list backed by Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has over 2.2 million out of 3.3 million votes counted. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI