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.