Sistani Warns Against Sectarianism in Iraq

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Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has said that protesters in Iraq have legitimate demands and that political parties should cease sectarian rhetoric and begin negotiations, writes Oday Hatem.

Senior Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani called on the political parties in Iraq to "avoid sectarian rhetoric and to sit down at the dialogue table."

The State of Law coalition denied that the presidency had issued an order to dissolve parliament, but it noted that "this option will remain on the table should other options fail." The Iraqi List saw this as "an attempt at political deception."

Sistani met yesterday [Jan. 13] in Najaf (roughly 100 miles south of Baghdad) with Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq.

In a press conference after the meeting, Kobler announced that “the UN’s vision is consistent with that of Sistani on resolving the crisis.” He added, “We held intensive discussions with Sistani about the events taking place in the country and the current crisis. He emphasized that the crisis would only be resolved if all parties sat at the dialogue table and avoided sectarian rhetoric. We will convey this message to the Iraqi parliament and the other political parties.”

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Kobler noted that “our message converges with that of Sistani on the need for dialogue, peace, flexibility and moderation, and to not expose Iraq to danger.”

Regarding the demands of the demonstrators, Kobler said that “some demands are realistic and must be implemented. There are also unrealistic demands, but the right to demonstrate is guaranteed to all by the Iraqi constitution, provided that it is peaceful.”

He urged the government to “exercise self-restraint and flexibility, preserve peace and provide an appropriate atmosphere for demonstrations.”

In commandments read out by his representative Sheikh Abdel Mahdi al-Karbalai at the Friday sermon, Sistani called for “building a civil state based on constitutional institutions that respect the rights and responsibilities of citizens.” He blamed all political blocs for the current crisis in Iraq.

Sistani urged the government to “listen to the legitimate demands of demonstrators in Anbar, and to examine them rationally while taking into account the principles of the constitution and the law, until the foundations of a civil state that guarantees rights and responsibilities are laid out.”

He called on the security services to “exercise self-restraint, act wisely and calmly, and avoid clashing with demonstrators and actions that would create tension in the street.”

Sistani strongly criticized the Iraqi political blocs, saying that they “politicize many files and issues that need to be handled legally.” He called on politicians to “not interfere in the work of independent authorities, to stay away from judicial files and cases and to not exploit them for political gains.”

For over three years now, the Shiite cleric has refused to receive any Iraqi politicians due to the failure of the political class to build a state and provide services to the citizens.

Several Iraqi provinces are witnessing massive demonstrations and sit-ins that demand “the release of female prisoners and detainees, the revocation of the accountability and justice laws and achieving balance in public jobs.”

The State of Law coalition, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, denied that “Vice President Khudair Khuzaie (a member of the coalition) issued an order to dissolve parliament.”

State of Law Member of Parliament (MP) Khaled Asadi said that “had Khuzaie issued such an order, the parliament would have been dissolved by now, which has not happened.”

Asadi told Al-Hayat that “all constitutional options are on the table, including the dissolution of parliament, but it will be the last option.” He added that “dialogues are currently being held amid a positive atmosphere. We have not yet reached a deadlock that requires us to resort to this option.”

He noted that “the constitution specified two options for dissolving parliament: either parliament dissolves itself by request from a number of deputies with the approval of the absolute majority, which is 163 deputies, or the prime minister proposes the dissolution of parliament, and the president approves and issues a relevant order.” The Iraqi constitution states that “the vice president shall assume the president’s tasks in his absence for any reason.”

President Jalal Talabani has been suffering a health crisis since last month and is being treated in Germany.

On the possibility of dissolving parliament during the interrogation period of Prime Minister Maliki, MP Abbas al-Bayati from the State of Law coalition ruled out “anyone's ability to interrogate Maliki.” He said that “these parties have already attempted that, and did not succeed.”

In a statement to Al-Hayat, Bayati said that “Maliki will not be subjected to any interrogation, and he will not be questioned in parliament.” He added that “questioning Maliki under these circumstances is unconstitutional, because the constitution stipulated that the prime minister and ministers be interrogated for their professional work only, not for political reasons.”

Bayati described the interrogation of Maliki as “a mere attempt to pressure him.” He said that “the option of dissolving parliament will be the last resort should all other solutions fail.”

For its part, the Iraqi List said that talk about the dissolution of parliament “falls within the framework of ‘political deception.’”

MP Muhammad Iqbal from the Al-Iraqiya List said that “the dissolution of parliament and survival of the government as a caretaker government will put the country in a constitutional vacuum, and this demand falls within the context of political deception.”

In a statement, Iqbal said that “throughout this period, there will be no supervision on the work of the government, so it is acting freely with regard to the budget for the fiscal year 2013, especially in the absence of the president’s authority.” He noted that “the solution is to maintain parliament, and form a national salvation government until elections are held and a new government is formed.”

President of the Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani yesterday expressed conditional approval for early elections. In a statement issued after a meeting with Kobler in the Salahuddin resort in Erbil, Barzani said that he “is not against holding early elections in Iraq, on two conditions: amending the electoral law, and conducting an accurate census supervised by the United Nations.”

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