Could Sistani Be Iraq’s Last Hope?

By Ali Abel Sadah for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

On April 15, 2013, Martin Kobler, Head of the UN mission in Iraq, met with Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shiite authority in Najaf, a meeting which observers described as the most important since the outbreak of protests in Ramadi and other provinces.

Kobler quoted the cleric, the most influential in Iraq, as saying that he has a “roadmap” to solve the crisis that erupted on Nov. 25, 2012. Kobler said the map “includes the return of the leaders of Iraqi political blocs to the negotiating table by adopting moderate positions.”

Half a month after that meeting, however, the crisis seems irreversible, amid possible armed clashes looming between the Shiite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki and Sunni leaders carrying out protests against Baghdad. There are Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish calls for Sistani to intervene now.

The last thing that Sistani said about the crisis was that he “feels great concern, now more than ever, about the future of Iraq,” Kobler quoted him as saying.

Sistani is widely accepted by the various ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, and he is viewed as a man of peace and a primary sponsor of dialogue in the country. But this presence of his is different from that of the city of Qom, where the religious Hawza is in control of political decisions and the identity of the state.

Clearly, Sistani has been imposing his style from Najaf for decades, whereby he separates between the state — from whose poles he keeps the same distance — and the religious affairs of the public. His idea seems closer to the Vatican, and much farther from Qom’s concepts of Hawza and Velayat-e faqih.

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