Sunday, July 22, 2007

Top Aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani Assassinated

On Saturday Iraqi authorities confirmed that Abdullah Falaq, who served Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as both his finance director and chief advisor on matters of Islamic law, was stabbed to death in his offices on Friday. His office was part of Sistani’s heavily guarded compound in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. (Najaf is about 100 miles south of Baghdad.)

In the wake of the assassination of his top aide, those around the Grand Ayatollah were considering moving him out of Najaf, and possibly sending him into hiding at least for the short term.

In January, an assassination plot against Sistani was foiled, and security around the cleric was increased. It is uncertain how an armed intruder or intruders managed to slip into the heavily secured and fortified compound, and it was taken as a dire warning to Sistani that he is not safe. It is widely believed that the attackers likely had a confederate on the clerics guard detail.

Police took four suspects into custody, but a spokesman for the security forces declined to comment on whether the men were a part of any insurgent group or affiliated with any rebel fighters.

The assassination of Falaq indicates that as the different factions jostle for power, there are significant intra-sect struggles being waged, and this represents an additional obstacle to peace. The details surrounding the assassination are not yet known, but it would be an extremely negative turn of events if the three year old agreement between Sistani and fundamentalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were abandoned at this point.

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