Baghdad, Reuters/Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, on Friday called for the prosecution of the most senior officials suspected of corruption and for the retrieval of stolen state funds.
Sistani, whose word few Iraqi politicians would openly challenge, has put his authority behind a recent reform drive by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and urged him to take a stronger stance against the corruption and mismanagement that have made Iraq nearly impossible to govern.
Abadi’s initiative, proposed last month, eliminates entire layers of government, scraps sectarian and party quotas for state positions, reopens corruption investigations, and gives the premier the power to fire regional and provincial bosses.
But critics have called the moves unconstitutional and say they will not improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis who have braved sweltering summer heat in Baghdad and southern provinces every Friday for more than a month to protest against poor services and corruption.
“One of the vital steps of reform is . . . to pursue the major figures of corruption and hold them accountable, and to retrieve the stolen funds from them,” Sistani said in a Friday sermon, delivered by his aide Ahmed Al-Safi.
He also pointed a finger at Iraq’s Integrity Commission, a government body tasked with fighting corruption, and to the judiciary, saying: “Many wonder if they are up to the task and if they will carry out this mission without any more delays.”
Increasingly, street protests that were precipitated last month by widespread power cuts have evolved to demand the trial of corrupt politicians and reform of the judiciary, including the removal of Medhat Mahmoud, head of the Supreme Judicial Council, which oversees the court system.
Sistani also urged politicians to fix Iraq’s economy.
The government’s fiscal deficit is expected to reach double digits this year, battered by a slump in oil revenues and higher military spending, not least to try to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) out of the swaths of northern and western Iraq that it controls.
“Weak economic planning and failure to establish a comprehensive strategy for providing financial resources to the country other than through oil revenues is a form of corruption,” Sistani said.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat meanwhile, an informed Iraqi political source said Sistani had also asked Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to curb the influence of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iraq.
The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard, has been operating in Iraq as part of the drive to root out ISIS.
The Quds Force is led by the enigmatic Gen. Qassem Suleimani, and according to the source Sistani is concerned by Suleimani’s influence in Iraq.
“He [Sistani] asked Khamenei about Suleimani’s increasing influence in Iraq, which is becoming a source of embarrassment for [Sistani]. He asked whether this influence came as a result of instructions from Khamenei,” the source said.