This fresh from the Aussie ABC
Powerful Iraqi cleric survives assassination bid
Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has survived an assassination attempt in which gunmen opened fire on his entourage.
An unnamed security official in Ayatollah al-Sistani's office said: "Gunmen opened fire on Ayatollah Sistani as he greeted people in Najaf but he was not hurt."
Ayatollah al-Sistani is revered by Iraq's Shiite community, which makes up about 60 per cent of the country's 25 million population.
He is rarely seen in public and seldom leaves the holy city of Najaf, about 160 kilometres south of Baghdad.
Residents say Ayatollah al-Sistani was travelling by car from his office to his home in Najaf and stopped to greet well-wishers when his entourage was fired on.
An attempt on the 73-year-old cleric's life is likely to spur anger among Iraq's long-oppressed Shiite community as it seeks greater influence in a post-Saddam Iraq.
It was not immediately clear how many people were travelling with Ayatollah al-Sistani and if anyone in his entourage was hit.
The incident comes amid mounting sectarian and ethnic tension in Iraq.
Suicide bomb attacks against Kurdish targets in the northern city of Arbil last Sunday killed more than 100 people, including several top Kurdish leaders.
In recent weeks, Ayatollah al-Sistani has spoken out against US proposals for transferring power back to an Iraqi government by July 1.
He says he wants direct elections to be held rather than the US plan for a system of indirect regional caucuses.
Ayatollah al-Sistani's pronouncements carry enormous weight in Iraq and his opposition to the US power transfer plans has thrown into question whether sovereignty will be returned by the deadline.
Ayatollah al-Sistani seldom makes political statements and is regarded as a low-profile but influential religious leader.
The assassination attempt comes days before a team of United Nations electoral experts is due to arrive in the country to assess the feasibility of holding early elections along the lines that Ayatollah al-Sistani has demanded.
The cleric has received UN envoys in the past and kept open a dialogue with the international body.
But he has refused to meet US officials, including the US-appointed governor in Iraq, Paul Bremer, for fear of appearing too close to the US-led occupation.
America has some powerful enemies and it has delivered itself into their hands. The flypaper theory works fine, but the Americans are the flies.
Not only do they have to try and deal with the political and religious dynamite that they are fooling with there, but also with a meta layer of genuine terrorists who can wreck any scheme by killing, or even attempting to kill the right people.
Last weekend it was the moderate Kurds who were taken out, now they are having a go at the most powerful cleric at the head of the vast majority of Iraqis.
If they can make it look like Sunnis or Kurds trying to take him out because his demands for open elections would leave them high and dry, they will provoke a civil war.
If they turn out to be Ansar or Al Qaeda, the Americans have made it very clear that their objective was to attract exactly those terrorists into Iraq and the US will get the blame for doing so.
If they succeed, 18 million Shia will take to the streets in grief, then they will blame America, then Sadr will stand up and say, "see, this is what you get for dealing with the US, throw them out".
What is Rummy's game plan for dealing with a million armed, murderously angry Shia bent on killing his troops and no front line?