Iran's military meddling in the fledgling nation of Iraq is common knowledge, as is their frequent -though ineffective- electoral tampering. A key instrument of Tehran's propaganda machine is manipulation of Iraqi and wider Arab media, vehicles for Iran to slander Iraqi politicians who reject the Mullah's self imposed sphere of influence in the Middle East.
A frequent target of Iran's ire is Shi'ite cleric and Iraqi politician Ali al-Sistani. Sistani was considered Iraq's leading political-religious figure during the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, but somewhat faded from prominence as the Shi'ite block drifted towards the more violent Muqtada al-Sadr. His key role in post-invasion Iraq was providing valuable religious support for the Iraqi elections, issuing a fatwa declaring that Iraqi males and females alike were morally obligated to vote.
Enter Donald Rumsfeld's upcoming memoirs, Known and Unknown. An Islamic website, claiming to have obtained a copy of the book, offers a rather creative English to Arabic translation of Rumsfeld interactions with Sistani during his tenure as Secretary of State. Rumsfeld, in the Arabic translation, recounts having been "hugged and kissed" by Sistani despite the fact that he "doesn't find it pleasant to kiss men," and claims to have developed a warm relationship with the cleric after a depositing $200 million in Sistani's bank account.
Secretary Rumsfeld, unsurprisingly, has taken a bit of umbrage to the distortions -- which are eye raising even by Arab media standards. In a press release this afternoon, his office writes:
“The rumors currently making the rounds in some Arabic press outlets that allege Mr. Rumsfeld’s forthcoming memoir contains information about meeting with and bribing Grand Ayatollah Sistani are as laughable and inaccurate as they are disprovable. People will be able to see for themselves exactly what is in Known and Unknown when it becomes public on February 8.
Suffice it to say that Rumsfeld did not offer to pay for any of Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s opinions, nor would he have even entertained the thought. Furthermore, Rumsfeld never met with Sistani. Suggestions to the contrary are flat untrue.
Grand Ayatollah Sistani was and remains a courageous but distinctly independent voice in Iraq. It’s worth noting that the misinformation campaign began in Iranian-backed press outlets and looks to be nothing more than a not so clever attempt to mislead and sow mistrust among Iraqis.”