Iraq’s top Shiite cleric urges for new govt

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani calling for a new ‘effective’ government is considered to be an implicit criticism of Prime Minister al-Maliki

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In an implicit criticism of the embattled incumbent premier Nouri al-Maliki, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite majority called for a new, “effective” government on Friday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the “formation of an effective government that is acceptable on a ... national level (and) avoids past mistakes,” in remarks made by his spokesman on his behalf, Agence France-Presse reported.


“It is necessary for the winning political blocs to start a dialogue that yields an effective government that enjoys broad national support, avoids past mistakes and opens new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis,” the Associated Press quoted al-Sisanti as saying in a message delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the holy city of Karbala.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is seeking a third term following an April 30 general election, is under fire both domestically and internationally for allegedly exclusionary policies towards the Sunni Arab minority that helped set the stage for a militant offensive that has overrun swathes of Iraq.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey and David Petraeus, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, have all either called for Maliki to be more inclusive, or criticized him outright.

The country’s fate

U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday that Maliki’s actions could dictate the fate of the country, amid a growing feeling in Washington that the Iraqi leader would do best by moving on.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said on Friday that Iraq needed a government of national unity, with or without Maliki, to counter a Sunni rebel insurgency.

Faulting Maliki for failing to ensure a more inclusive form of government, Fabius said it was critical now to better involve Sunni moderates to avoid them siding with what he described as the “terrorist group” Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda splinter organization.

Iraq’s Shiites deeply revere Sistani and a call to arms he made last week prompted thousands of Shiites to volunteer to fight against ISIS.

The Iranian-born Sistani, who is believed to be 86, lives in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad. A recluse, he rarely ventures out of his home and does not give interviews.

Maliki’s opponents

With Iraq in turmoil, Maliki’s rivals have mounted a campaign to force him out of office, with some angling for support from Western backers and regional heavyweights. On Thursday, their effort received a massive boost from Obama, who said: “Only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis.”

“We’ve said publicly, that whether (Maliki) is prime minister or any other leader aspires to lead the country, that there has to be an agenda in which Sunni, Shiite and Kurd all feel that they have the opportunity to advance their interest through the political process,” the president said.

An “inclusive agenda” has not been high on the priorities of al-Maliki, however. Many of al-Maliki’s former Kurdish and Shiite allies have been clamoring to deny the prime minister a third term in office, charging that he has excluded them from a narrow decision-making circle of close confidants.

Maliki’s efforts last year to crush protests by Sunnis complaining of discrimination under his Shiite-led government sparked a new wave of violence by militants, who took over the city of Fallujah in the western, Sunni-dominated province of Anbar and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi. Iraqi army and police forces battling them for months have been unable to take most areas back.

Iraq’s newly elected parliament must meet by June 30 to elect a speaker and a new president, who in turn will ask the leader of the largest bloc to form a new government.

(With AFP, Associated Press and Reuters)

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