- - Monday, July 7, 2014

On Friday, Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s representative issued a scathing four part statement, criticizing the Iraqi government’s failure to appoint a prime minister and form a new government.

The statement was released by Sayyid Ahmad Al-Safi on behalf of Ayatollah Sistani, and said “It is of utmost importance that everyone seeks a quick formation of a new government, in accordance to the constitutional frameworks and with care that it draws wide public support. It is also important that the three leaders [the president, prime minister, and leader of parliament] be consonant among themselves in regards to laying general policies that are necessary to manage the country.”

The Grand Ayatollah also demanded protection for religious and ethnic minorities in the Shiite dominated country, singling out the plight of Turkmen, Shabak, Christian, and other minority communities of the Niniveh province.

Reiterating his support for the rule of law and the Iraqi constitution, the statement reads “Respect to the constitution and abiding by all its provisions, and not being selective as to what provisions to apply, must become the cornerstone on which all positions are built. Any step taken outside such a framework will be unacceptable.”

The move undermines efforts to portray the strife in Iraq as sectarian in nature, and apparently abolishes attempts to form “religious” militias or paramilitary groups.

The statement also reiterates Ayatollah Sistani’s previous call for Iraqis to volunteer to serve in the Iraqi military. The original statement was met with much controversy, when commentators mistakenly misinterpreted it. The Grand Ayatollah’s office clarified that it was a humanitarian plea directed at all Iraqis (Sunnis, Shiites, and non-Muslims) to rise up to defend their country.

Ayatollah Sistani’s representative in the United States, Sheikh Sahlani, said “The world community has a moral responsibility to stand together against those who desire to harm innocents and cause mayhem.”

Ayatollah Sistani is the foremost Shiite scholar in Iraq, and according to many, in the world. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he has rarely intervened in civil affairs. The few times he has intervened, however, have had long lasting effects on Iraq. He is widely credited as forcing the creation of a transitional government, and is said to have insisted that Iraq be a democracy.

Later, he issued a fatwa making it obligatory for Iraqis to vote in the election cycle. The fatwa insisted that women need also vote, and compared those who voted to Zainab bint Ali, the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad, a highly revered historical figure.

Ayatollah Sistani’s comments on the current crisis in Iraq have been bolstered by the support of the other three Grand Ayatollahs in the city of Najaf. It is commonly understood that the four Grand scholars have agreed that Sistani is to be the lead on political matters and statements on the issue. The term Grand Ayatollah is a synonym for the term “Marja,” which denotes the concept of religious leadership present in Shia Islam.

The Marjas are seeking a conciliatory tone with Sunnis, as the statement reads “the sensitive circumstances that Iraq now lives in, mandates on all parties, and especially political leadership, to reject fanatical rhetoric that may lead to greater tension and strain of the current situation.”

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