I've mentioned before that article on Iraq by the Washington Post's Anthony Shadid are always worth reading.
Shadid is one of the few Western reporters in Iraq who himself speaks fluent Arabic. It's probably no accident that his reporting has tended to show a less optimistic picture of American prospects in the war than the Administration would have liked.
Monday's Post has another of his reports:
This piece provides some context for how Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has emerged as possibly the most important political player in Iraq.
<< The Shiites, seen by occupation officials as the key to stability in postwar Iraq, are torn between politics and personalities. Some of the best-organized parties -- among them the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- have engaged U.S. authorities and taken part in the Governing Council. Others, such as the followers of Muqtada Sadr, a 30-year-old cleric whose father was a revered ayatollah, have come out defiantly against the occupation, devoting their attention to street politics.
<< But none of the parties claims the religious authority enjoyed by the grand ayatollahs, four of whom in Najaf are widely recognized as deserving the title marja al-taqlid, or source of emulation. Their authority among their followers is unquestioned. ...
<< Given Sistani's traditional reluctance to enter politics, the forcefulness of his recent opinions caught some by surprise. For months, the senior ayatollah, who has remained secluded in his home since the war's end because of fears for his safety, faced criticism from some Shiites for his lack of assertiveness. His reticence allowed more militant factions, such as that led by Sadr, to seize ground as public frustration mounted. >>