Al-Sistani is profiled in Anthony Shadid's February 1, 2004, Washington Post article "Call of History Draws Iraqi Cleric to the Political Fore." It states:
- Rarely seen in public, and in isolation for the past six years, the Iranian-born cleric has derailed one U.S. plan for Iraq's political transition and is striving to undo another through a demand for direct elections. He has caused anxiety among U.S. officials who are wary of the theocracy in neighboring Iran and envision Iraq as a secular, democratic outpost in the Arab world. His statements -- often handwritten, seldom spoken -- have already secured the Shiite clergy a crucial if not dominant role in determining Iraq's future.
- From his biography and in interviews with fellow clerics, his staff and Iraqis who have met him, a complex picture emerges of a man whose exercise of power is as much a consequence of time and place as of his personality.
- A deeply traditional cleric, Sistani has been steeped in the culture of religious schools since he was 10 years old, educated by some of their most illustrious scholars and dedicated to the preservation of the schools' authority. He cultivated such an austere image that he did not buy a refrigerator until a decade ago. Yet he oversees institutions and a budget in the tens of millions of dollars, and in the subterranean contests for power and prestige in Najaf, he has proved himself a skilled infighter.
- While his detractors see his newfound activism as cause for alarm -- the onset of clerical influence and the ascent of the Shiite majority in a divided country -- his followers describe his moves as defensive. Sistani fears the loss of what he describes as Iraq's Islamic identity, and he trusts that Iraqis, a Muslim, Arab people, will not disavow it if given a voice through elections. He thinks historically, they say, acknowledging mistakes by the clergy in the 1920 revolt, and chafing at the secular nature of modern Turkey.
- Sistani has explicitly refrained from pronouncements on what shape Iraq's constitution and law should take. He is described as a 'flexible thinker' who believes that religion should adapt to time and place. Yet his edicts reveal a profoundly traditionalist view of society. He has said that men and women should not mix socially, that music for entertainment is prohibited, that women should veil their hair.
- Through no choice of his own, his interlocutors say, Sistani has now been forced to define his legacy. 'Any grand ayatollah would have done exactly the same,' said Mowaffak Rubaie, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council who visits Sistani often. 'He keeps on saying that in 50 years from now, if I don't act, people will remember me by saying why didn't he do this, why didn't he say anything? They will say the country lost its identity, and you did nothing to stop it.'
In 2005 Sistani's homepage issued a fatwa against male and female homosexuals separately, calling for the torture and killing of gay, lesbian, and transgender people.
- Ehsan Ahrari, "Method in Sistani's muscle flexing," Asia Times, March 25, 2004.