Iraq’s Grand Cleric Sistani Urges Gov’t to Make “Genuine Changes”
In a message delivered by a representative in a Friday sermon, Grand Ayatollah Sistani also cautioned protesters, who have staged weekly rallies to press demands for reform, that they must guard against groups seeking to hijack their movement to further other interests.
Hours later, tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied in Baghdad and a string of cities south of the capital in support of Prime Minister Abadi’s reform drive and to press demands for the dissolution of parliament and an end to corruption.
The Baghdad rally, in central Tahrir Square, was the largest by far, attracting at least 20,000, many of them waving the national flag. It was held under tight security measures but ended peacefully shortly after nightfall.
Ayatollah Sistani’s comments, delivered in Karbala, challenged the government to show that it is “truthfully and seriously” responding to demands for change.
“Citizens have experienced past promises that were never realized on the ground,” he cautioned.
“Officials must work differently this time around and win the trust of the citizens,” he said, according to an AP report.
The weekly rallies, which began last month, have been pressing for better basic services like power, water and medical care, as well as an end to corruption.
The rallies came as Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim Al-Jabouri threatened Minister of Electricity Qassem Al-Fahdawi Tuesday with a vote of no confidence if he does not appear within four days to be quizzed over a persistent power crisis.
Prime Minister Abadi has responded to the rallies with a package of reforms that reduced the size of his cabinet, and eliminated the three vice presidencies and the three deputy prime minister posts.
He has also ordered a revision of the government’s pay scale and the annulment of financial perks enjoyed by senior officials, lawmakers and consultants.
His actions raised questions about the legality of his reforms and whether they violate the constitution.
“I will not back down,” Abadi vowed in televised comments this week. “There is no going back on reforms. Our political system needs popular pressure to reform itself,” said the prime minister who has said he would seek a popular mandate to amend the constitution, which he described as “incomplete.”