Iraqis look to reluctant ayatollah to take more active political role

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Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is seen by his Shiite followers as a key figure to provide political guidance

Fifteen years ago, after the US-led invasion of Iraq had toppled the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the country’s most senior cleric helped guide his people towards a system of representative government.

But the dire political circumstances in Baghdad may require Sistani to take on a more active role than he would like. Though Iraqis might reasonably begrudge Sistani for the incompetence and venality of their political elite, they seem inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, not least because of his personal probity and the prestige of his office, which is arguably the highest in Shiite Islam.

It is likely to take more than Sistani’s personal prestige to keep Soleimani at bay. In the rough-and-tumble world of Baghdad politics, where parties routinely use militias for leverage, Iran can call on a wide array of armed groups. Tehran’s politician of choice is Hadi al-Amiri, who commands the Badr Organisation, which is both a paramilitary and a political party.

 

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