News You Really Need To See: “As Iraqi Civilian Rule Weakens, Shi’ite Clerics Call the Shots”

“As Iraqi Civilian Rule Weakens, Shi’ite Clerics Call the Shots”

Reuters, March 20, 2016

With Iraq’s politicians tainted by corruption and the army’s standing hurt by battlefield defeats, two Shi’ite clerics have re-emerged as leaders in matters of state.  In their different ways, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq’s two most influential Shi’ite leaders, are pressuring Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to tackle graft at the heart of Iraq’s government.  The timing of their intervention is delicate.  If Abadi fails to satisfy Sistani and Sadr by delivering long-promised anti-corruption measures, his government may be weakened just as Iraqi forces are gearing up to fight for the largest city under Islamic State control – Mosul.  In recent weeks both clerics have increased pressure on Abadi. Sistani signaled his displeasure in January by saying his voice had ‘become sore’ with repeating his calls for reforms.  On Feb. 5, he said he would no longer deliver weekly sermons about political affairs, and he has been only addressing religious matters since.  Sadr followed up by escalating street protests. … It is not the first time that Sistani has influenced the political agenda since the army’s collapse before Islamic State militants two years ago.  He forced out prime minister Nuri al-Maliki after an eight-year premiership which alienated Sunni Muslims and saw corruption set in among senior army officers.  All it took for the Grand Ayatollah to oust Maliki was to say, in a Friday sermon delivered by one of his representatives, that politicians ‘should not cling to positions.’ … On March 10, Sadr formally announced his mission as guardian of good governance when he called on his supporters to rally in Baghdad in a statement that ended with a new title:  The people’s servant and the fighter of corruption.”

Quickie analysis:  The dynamic duo of clerics continue to be the only force in Iraq capable of getting the government to even try to tackle corruption.

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