Nation/World

Bush letter to Iraq’s top Shiite leader ignored

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A letter from President Bush to Iraq’s supreme Shiite spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was hand-delivered earlier this week but sits unread and untranslated in the top religious figure’s office, an al-Sistani aide told the Associated Press on Thursday.

The aide said the ayatollah had laid the letter aside and did not ask for a translation because of increasing “unhappiness” over what senior Shiite leaders see as American meddling in Iraqi attempts to form their first permanent post-invasion government.

The aide said the person who delivered the Bush letter – he would not identify the messenger by name or nationality – said it carried Bush’s thanks to al-Sistani for calling for calm among his followers in preventing the outbreak of civil war after a Shiite shrine was bombed late last month.

The messenger also was said to have explained that the letter reinforced the American position that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari should not be given a second term. Al-Sistani has not publicly taken sides in the dispute, but rather has called for Shiite unity.

The United States was known to object to al-Jaafari’s second term but has never said so outright and in public.

But on Saturday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad carried a similar letter from Bush to a meeting with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the largest Shiite political organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The al-Sistani aide said Shiite displeasure with U.S. involvement was so deep that dignitaries in the holy city of Najaf refused to meet Khalilzad on Wednesday during ceremonies commemorating the death of the Prophet Muhammad.



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