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.


Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

  • “Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said
  • The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday

JEDDAH: Truce monitoring observers will be deployed in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday as the first 24 hours of a UN-brokered cease-fire passed without incident.

The Redeployment Coordination Committee comprises members of the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi militias backed by Iran, and is overseen by the UN. 

The head of the committee will report to the UN Security Council every week.

Deployment of the observers is the latest stage in a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden. Both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeidah and the withdrawal of their forces within 21 days.

“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under UN supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

UN envoy Martin Griffith said the committee was expected to start its work swiftly “to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground.”

The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday. Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. 

“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there will be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security,” said one, Amani Mohammed.

Another resident, Mohammed Al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the cease-fire would pave the way for a broader truce. “We are hopeful about this cease-fire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said. “We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.”

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the cease-fire.

The resolution, submitted by the UK, “calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country.”