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Sistani welcomes Iraqi politicians

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's welcoming of the Iraqi president and prime minister is not a sign that he is backtracking on steering clear of politics, but that he wants the political arena to succeed in implementing reforms, thereby protecting Iraq's religious and cultural diversity.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (C) walks after a meeting with the top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, October 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION) - RTR4AVK4
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A turning point was reached the moment Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme religious authority in Iraq, opened the doors of his office in Najaf to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Oct. 20, and then to President Fouad Massoum on Nov. 11. For years, Sistani had refused to meet with politicians, rejecting every attempt to drag him into the political arena or to use his position for their climb to power. Thus, the symbolic significance of the moment is more important than the two recent meetings themselves.

Sistani’s welcoming of the politicians has naturally raised questions involving his resuming these types of meetings, which could reinterpret the role of the religious authority in political life in the future. Some essential questions have yet to be asked, however: Why did Sistani boycott politicians? Is Sistani dealing with the politicians from a political perspective to mitigate power and expand his influence? Is his stance a religious one, in particular, seeking to protect Najaf from Shiite politicians’ grasp? Was his welcoming of Abadi a political or a religious signal?

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