Analysts: Top Iraqi Shiite cleric’s call for unity govt not enough

Key regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey are divided, and will not sit together at the negotiation table

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The call by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric for a new “effective” government that enjoys broad national support is not enough to save the country from splintering, analysts say.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who was pivotal in forming the transitional government after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, has called for a national unity government that “avoid the mistakes of the pasts,” implicitly criticising Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Ghassan Attiyah, president of the Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy, told Al Arabiya News: “The situation in Iraq has become very complicated. It could hardly be solved through a fatwa [religious edict] issued by Sistani.”

The London-based Attiyah, who authored “The Making of Iraq: 1908-20,” added: “This fatwa won’t change anything.”

Key regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey are divided, and will not sit together at the negotiation table, he said.

Iraqi politicians are also divided. Before the current crisis, there were discussions over the formation of a bloc comprising Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds who oppose a third term for Maliki.

However, the talks were challenged by who would lead the bloc.

Iran’s role needs to be considered, particularly as it backs Maliki. He did not win the 2010 elections, but by forming alliances with other Shiite parties, he was declared prime minister.

“Will Iran allow the division of the Shiite alliance for Iraq to create an inclusive government?” asked Attiyah.

Azzam Tamimi, chairman and editor-in-chief of the London-based Al-Hiwar TV, said: “It’s now very hard to convince them [Sunnis] of a political process. If Maliki doesn’t go, there’s no hope for any political process in Iraq.”

He “should bear responsibility for what has happened,” added Tamimi, author of “Islam and Secularism in the Middle East.”

Baghdad-based analyst Salim al-Hasani agreed, saying: “Maliki is no longer suitable to rule... A civil war could be avoided only if he leaves power.”

Maliki has been criticized for marginalizing Sunnis and violently suppressing their protests, which started in late 2012.

This has pushed them to take up arms and join forces with radicals such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has fuelled further sectarian tensions by threatening to advance on Karbala and Najaf, cities that contain among the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam.

There are Shiite blocs that oppose a third term for Maliki, but because of the threat posed by ISIS, Iraq’s Shiites have come together to fight the group. Sistani has urged Iraqis from all backgrounds to join the army.

So far, there are no concrete proposals to solve the crisis, only statements urging Iraqis to overcome their differences.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Iraqi leaders to rise above “sectarian considerations.”

In reality, however, Sunni militants continue to make territorial gains.

“There’s a semi-autonomous pocket called Kurdistan. There’s practically a semi-autonomous Sunni pocket. The central government isn’t thinking of getting back these seized areas, only of how to protect Baghdad and the Shiite areas,” Attiyah said.

“This is a de-facto division of Iraq.”

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