Iraq’s New Prime Minister, Top Cleric Urge Country To Unite

Posted by on Aug 16, 2014 | Leave a Comment

 Iraq’s most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Alial-Sistani, threw his weight on Friday behind the new prime minister, calling for national unity to contain sectarian bloodshed and an offensive by Islamic State militants that threatens Baghdad.

Speaking after Nuri al-Maliki finally stepped down as prime minister under heavy pressure from allies at home and abroad, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority said the handover to Maliki’s party colleague Haider al-Abadioffered a rare opportunity to resolve political and security crises.

Iraq has been plunged into its worst violence since the peak of a sectarian civil war in 2006-2007, with Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State overrunning large parts of the west and north, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives and threatening the ethnic Kurds in their autonomous province.

Sistani told the country’s feuding politicians to live up to their “historic responsibility” by cooperating with Abadi as he tries to form a new government and overcome divisions among the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that deepened as Maliki pursued what critics saw as a sectarian Shi’ite agenda.

Abadi himself, in comments online, urged his countrymen to unite and cautioned that the road ahead would be tough.

Sistani, a reclusive octogenarian whose authority few Iraqi politicians would dare openly challenge, also had pointed comments for the military, which offered serious resistance when the Islamic State staged its lightning offensive in June.

“We stress the necessity that the Iraqi flag is the banner they hoist over their troops and units, and avoid using any pictures or other symbols,” Sistani said, in a call for the armed forces to set aside sectarian differences. Maliki was blamed for blurring lines between the army and Shi’ite militias.

Maliki ended eight years in power that began under U.S. occupation and endorsed Abadi, a member of his Shi’ite Islamic Dawa party, in a televised speech late on Thursday during which he stood next to his successor, surrounded by other leaders.

Maliki’s critics at home and abroad had accused him of marginalizing the Sunni Muslim minority, which dominated Iraq until a U.S.-led invasion deposed dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. This, they said, had encouraged disaffected Sunnis to back the jihadist fighters who have ordered religious minorities to convert to their brand of Islam or die.

They have threatened to march on the capital.

The appointment of Abadi, who has a reputation as a less confrontational figure, had drawn widespread support within Iraq but also from the United States and regional Shi’ite power Iran – two countries which have been at odds for decades.

“The regional and international welcome is a rare positive opportunity … to solve all (Iraq’s) problems, especially political and security ones,” Sistani said in comments which were relayed by his spokesman after weekly Friday prayers in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad.

After its capture of the northern metropolis of Mosul in June, a swift push by the Islamic State to the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan alarmed Baghdad and last week drew the first U.S. air strikes on Iraq since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011.

 

 

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