BAGHDAD | An agreement signed by Iraq’s two main Shi’ite blocs seeking to govern the country gives the final decision on all their political disputes to top Shi’ite clerics, according to a copy obtained by the Associated Press on Wednesday.
If the alliance succeeds in forming the next government, the provision could increase the role of senior clergy in politics. The provision likely would further alienate Iraq’s Sunni minority, which already feels excluded by Shi’ite dominance and had been hoping that March’s election would boost their say in power.
The newly announced alliance between the Shi’ite blocs practically ensures they will form the core of any new government and squeeze out the top vote-getter, the secular Iraqiya list, which was largely backed by Sunnis. But the terms of the alliance show the deep distrust between the two Shi’ite partners and seek to limit the powers of the prime minister.
A leading member of the prime minister’s coalition who signed the agreement on Tuesday confirmed that it gives a small group of clerics led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani the last word on any disputes between the two allied blocs. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
“The marjaiyah has the final say in solving all the disputes between the two sides and its directives and guidance are binding,” the agreement said, referring to the religious Shi’ite leadership based in Najaf.
Shi’ite politician Karim al-Yaqoubi, who attend the signing, also confirmed the contents of the agreement.
The deal is between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the conservative Shi’ite Iraqi National Alliance. Neighboring Iran, a Shi’ite theocracy where clerics have the final word on all matters of state, carries great influence with both Shi’ite blocs and has long pushed for such an alliance.
Iraq’s Sunnis have been sidelined by Shi’ite-led governments since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. The community threw its weight behind former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya, which won 91 seats in the election — more than any other bloc. Sunnis already are warning that excluding them from government could fuel new sectarian violence.
In an interview Wednesday, before news of the details of the agreement became known, U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill said, “Sunnis have to be a part of the political process.
“They’re a major community here. You cannot run Iraq without having significant Sunni participation,” he told the AP.
In the past, Shi’ite politicians often have turned informally to Mr. al-Sistani for advice and to resolve disputes, but enshrining such a role in writing would dramatically strengthen the clerics’ influence. Notably, it requires politicians to turn to the clerics and to stick to their decision.