Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric says political reform must be ‘genuine’

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani also cautioned protesters calling for reform to guard against groups seeking to hijack their movement.
Iraqis shout slogans during a demonstration in Baghdad against the poor quality of basic services, power outages, and corruption on August 28, 2015. Khalid Al Mousily/Reuters
Iraqis shout slogans during a demonstration in Baghdad against the poor quality of basic services, power outages, and corruption on August 28, 2015. Khalid Al Mousily/Reuters

BAGHDAD // Iraq’s top Shiite cleric said on Friday the government must show it was seeking genuine change to combat corruption and improve services and not just introduce temporary measures to placate the embattled nation.

In a message delivered by a representative in a Friday sermon, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani also cautioned protesters who have staged weekly rallies to press demands for reform that they must guard against groups seeking to hijack their movement to further other interests.

The comments, delivered in Karbala, south of Baghdad, came just hours before thousands of Iraqis were to rally in Baghdad and a string of other cities to demand better services and an end to corruption.

Followers of a radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada Al Sadr, are expected to join the rally in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, a move that could give the movement an overt political colour when protesters have long tried to keep it above the political fray.

Addressing the government, Mr Al Sistani said it must show that it is “truthfully and seriously” responding to demands for change. “Citizens have experienced past promises that were never realised on the ground,” he cautioned.

“Officials must work differently this time around and win the trust of the citizens,” he said.

The weekly rallies, which began last month, have been pressing for better basic services like power, water and medical care, as well as an end to corruption and sectarian politics.

Prime minister Haider Al Abadi has responded to the rallies with a package of reforms that reduced the size of his cabinet, and eliminated the three vice presidencies and the three deputy prime minister posts. He has also ordered a revision of the government’s pay scale and the annulment of financial perks enjoyed by senior officials, lawmakers and consultants.

His actions raised questions about the legality of his reforms and whether they violate the constitution.

“I will not back down,” Mr Al Abadi vowed in televised comments this week. “There is no going back on reforms. Our political system needs popular pressure to reform itself,” said the Shiite prime minister who has said he would seek a popular mandate to amend the constitution, which he described as “incomplete.”

* Associated Press

Updated: August 29, 2015 04:00 AM

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