Iraq’s top cleric warns against ‘foreign influence’ in Iraqi elections

Iraq’s top Shia cleric on Friday warned of “foreign influence” in the upcoming national elections, stating it could undermine the country’s ability to carry out a free and fair vote.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq’s top Shia cleric on Friday warned of “foreign influence” in the upcoming national elections, stating it could undermine the country’s ability to carry out a free and fair vote.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s message was delivered by his representative Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalayi after the Friday prayers in Karbala. The cleric stressed that the Shia religious leadership in Iraq does not support any party or candidate.

Iraq has scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on May 12, the first election in the country after three years of fierce fighting against the Islamic State (IS).

“Past electoral experiments were marked by failures, many of those at the hand of elected or appointed government officials who abused their power and took part in spreading corruption and squandering public funds,” Sistani added.

There was a clear reference to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Sistani’s statement as he mentioned the collapse of security forces against IS in 2014 when Maliki was in power.

Sistani successfully blocked Maliki from returning to his position after winning the 2014 election, paving the way for the appointment of the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.

The top cleric, whose opinion is sacrosanct for millions of Iraq’s Shia majority and beyond, also called on all Iraqis to vote in the elections but said votes should not be awarded to Iraqi officials currently in office who have proven to be ineffective or corrupt.

Iraqis should “avoid falling into the trap of those ... who are corrupt and those who have failed, whether they have been tried or not.”

Sistani was responsible for the 2014 fatwa against IS that created the current Shia Hashd al-Shaabi (PMF) militia groups. He later launched a campaign against government corruption.

The cleric also voiced his support for the elections which he views as the most effective means for the country to avoid slipping back into a dictatorial system.

He joined his voice to that of Kurdish officials demanding a broad-based government following the elections, as opposed to a majority rule, which would “destroy partnerships and ties between the multi-ethnic and religious communities.”

Editing by Nadia Riva