London, Asharq Al-Awsat- A leading figure in the Iraqi National Alliance [INA] has confirmed that “Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme Shiite religious authority in Iraq, did in fact receive a message from US President Barack Obama dealing with the current situation in Iraq,” pointing out that “a leading figure in the State of Law Coalition [SLC] is the one who delivered the message to Al-Sistani.”
The leader who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said that “Al-Sistani has received a message from President Obama in which he asked the authority to intervene to solve the crisis of forming the Iraqi Government,” pointing out that “a person with close ties to the US Embassy and a friend to US Ambassador in Baghdad David Hill was the one who delivered the message.”
Asked about the name of the person who conveyed the message, the source said that “the US Embassy has several friends who have relations with the religious authority,” but then he disclosed the name saying that “he is Sheikh Khalid al-Atiyah, the leading figure in the SLC who is close to Nuri al-Maliki, the coalition’s leader and the head of the government whose term has expired. He was the one who delivered the message with the blessing of Al-Maliki himself.” He pointed out that “Al-Maliki’s coalition was enthusiastic to convey the message out of belief that the authority will intervene in their interest.”
The source said that “those who got acquainted with the contents of the message found that it was a normal message that includes a request from President Obama to Al-Sistani to solve the crisis of forming the Iraqi Government,” pointing out that the message includes phrases such as (we count on your influential role to assist the Iraqis and solve their crises; we knew you in previous occasions where your intervention to solve the crises was having positive results; and we hope of your intervention to solve the crisis of forming the government in a way that is satisfactory to all the Iraqi parties to advance the peace process since there are bad repercussions in case the situation continues the same).”
The INA leader said that “the US President has started his message with the phrase of (peace be upon you) to be close to the atmospheres of the Shiite authority, and that Al-Sistani received the message with two copies, one in English and the other in Arabic, and that Muhammad Rida, son of Al-Sistani, was received Sheikh Atiyah and received the message from him, and that Muhammad Rida was aware in advance of the arrival of Atiyah and the issue of the message.”
On the refusal of Hamid al-Khaffaf, the official spokesman for Al-Sistani, to comment on the subject of the message when he said: “We do not have a comment on the issue of the message,” the INA leader said: “Certainly Al-Khaffaf or anyone else from the authority’s house should refrain from commenting on this subject because it constitutes a big embarrassment for the religious authority, because this means that there are relations between the authority and the US Administration, and this is something that does not please the Shiites, particularly the followers of Al-Sistani.” He added that “this message has really constituted an embarrassment for Al-Sistani and would delay his intervention in solving the crisis of forming the government since several Shiite and Sunni sides have demanded the authority’s intervention in this issue, but no reactions has been made by him, and [now] if he intervenes, the Shiites would say that he implemented the US President’s demands, and if he does not intervene, the Iraqis would say that Al-Sistani has abandoned Iraq to drown in the problems.” He added that “the majority of the people of Al-Najaf know about the issue of the message, and in spite of the tight secrecy prevailing in the authority’s house, there are leaks that come out from time to time, and the issue of the message is one of these leaks that has not been denied by anyone.”
It is noteworthy that the White House has refrained from commenting on the news about the message to Al-Sistani. The White House spokesman said in a previous statement to Asharq Al-Awsat: “We do not comment on the president’s correspondence,” and refused to confirm or deny the reports.
For his part, Faisal Abdullah, media director at Sheikh Al-Atiyah’s office, denied the reports, and told Asharq Al-Awsat over the telephone from Baghdad yesterday that “we have no information about the issue of the message, and we are not aware of anything concerning such information.”