By Ned Parker
Iraq’s Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the majority sect’s most influential cleric, called on Friday for Iraq’s political blocs to agree on the next government’s prime minister, parliament speaker and president before parliament meets.
He said that after a presidential decree that called for a new parliament to convene on Tuesday, “what is required of the political blocs is to agree on the three presidencies within the remaining days to this date”, referring to the prime minister, president and parliament speaker.
In a similar speech last week he said that a new parliament should start work and start the process of forming a new government as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki – fighting growing calls from his opponents, and some of his former allies, to step aside as he tries to win a third term – has said he is committed to the process of forming a new government on time.
Sistani’s speech was read by his aide, Sheik Abdel Mehdi al-Karbalai at the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, in front of thousands of his followers.
Revered by millions, he has rallied Iraq’s Shi’ite population as Sunni armed groups, led by the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have seized large swathes of northern Iraq since June 10 and are marching on Baghdad.
“There has been scheming against Iraq for some time and it is being executed now,” Sistani said. “Scheming that aims at disintegrating this country and dividing it. Therefore we should have the caution and awareness and make the enemies of Iraq miss the chance to reach that goal.”
One of Sistani’s sermons, read by aides two weeks ago, he called on citizens to fight ISIL.