Iraq’s top cleric warns Abadi: Introduce reforms or protesters will fix officials

Iraqi Security forces besiege protesters during a demonstration in the West Qurna 2 oilfield in north of Basra, Iraq July 26, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 28 July 2018
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Iraq’s top cleric warns Abadi: Introduce reforms or protesters will fix officials

  • Al-Sistani also encouraged the incumbent government of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to respond urgently to protesters’ demands
  • Al-Sistani, a reclusive octogenarian, is revered by millions of Shiite Muslims in Iraq and abroad

BAGHDAD: Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, has called for a government to be formed as soon as possible to tackle corruption and improve basic services.

In a Friday sermon delivered by a representative, Sistani also challenged the caretaker administration of Prime Minister Haider Abadi to respond to protesters’ fears following widespread demonstrations in the Shiite-dominated southern provinces and Baghdad.

“The current government must work hard, urgently, to reduce citizens’ suffering and misery,” Sistani’s representative, Sheikh Abdulmahdi Al-Karbala’ie, said in the Shiite holy city of Kerbala.

Anger in Iraq is mounting as politicians struggle to form a government following the May 12 election, which was marred by allegations of fraud, prompting a recount.

The cleric’s Friday message was the clearest and most detailed call for government reform since 2015. 

“If the government or Parliament ... do not meet the reformations, the people will have to escalate their peaceful protests to impose their will on the officials,” Al-Karbala’ie said.

“We hope that there will be no need for this (escalation), and that the decision-makers ... get the matter resolved before it is too late.”

Abadi, who is seeking a second term in office, is heading a fragile caretaker government until a new administration is formed.

Sistani is the most influential figure in Iraq and his support is essential for any government. The cleric is seen by most Iraqis as the “godfather” of political changes that have taken place in the country since 2003. 

Thousands of people have protested this month in cities in the long-neglected south, Iraq’s Shiite heartland, against the lack of basic services, and high rates of poverty and unemployment. Protests over the same issues have occurred in the past, but the unrest this time is more widespread.

“Fighting (the corruption) will be his (the PM’s) first duty and his essential mission, waging a relentless war on corrupt (officials) and their protectors,” Al-Karbala’ie said.

Sistani also called on the next prime minister to expand the role of the Commission of Integrity and other regulatory bodies “to combat corruption and stand against the corrupt.”

Iraq has been at the top of the list of the world’s most corrupt countries for more than a decade.


Yemeni spokesman says militants seek to ignite Hodeidah fighting

Updated 21 March 2019
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Yemeni spokesman says militants seek to ignite Hodeidah fighting

  • Renewed fighting in Hodeidah would risk severing the main passage for humanitarian aid
  • A senior Houthi member earlier said a withdrawal is “impossible”

CAIRO: Yemen’s militants are igniting more conflict by their refusal to give up control of the key port city of Hodeida, the focus of months of UN-brokered talks, a government spokesman said.
Renewed fighting in Hodeidah would risk severing the main passage for humanitarian aid to the rest of the country, including northern Yemen, a heartland of the Houthi militants.
Rageh Badi, spokesman for the internationally recognized Yemen government, denounced remarks by senior militant leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi who earlier this week told The Associated Press that the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the government side in the conflict, is trying to change the terms of the agreement struck last year in Sweden and that a militant withdrawal would therefore be “impossible.”
Badi told reporters at a press conference Wednesday in the southern city of Aden that such remarks could set off renewed fighting in Hodeidah, the key entry point for international aid to the war-torn country, and violate the tentative peace agreement reached by the two sides in Sweden.
The remarks are a “renunciation of the Hodeidah agreement and a declaration of war,” Badi said, urging the UN to step up pressure on the rebels to prevent another “explosion of the situation” in Hodeidah. Otherwise, renewed fighting is just a “few days” away, he added.