May 6, 2010 in Nation/World

Shiite pact gives clerics referee role

Alliance likely to anger other religious sects in Iraq
Qassim Abdul-Zahra And Rebecca Santana Associated Press

BAGHDAD – An agreement to form an alliance between Iranian-backed Shiite blocs gives the final say on political disputes to Iraq’s top clerics, solidifying a role for the Shiite religious leadership in the country’s likely new government.

The agreement, obtained by the Associated Press Wednesday, is likely to alienate Iraq’s other religious and ethnic sects from the potential new government – especially minority Sunnis already wary of the Shiite-dominated leadership. The U.S. has warned against excluding Sunnis for fear that sidelining the Sunni-backed election winner could inflame tensions.

Several high-ranking Shiite officials confirmed to the AP the contents of the agreement, which lays out a list of conditions making possible the alliance between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance – until recently wary rivals for power.

But it is the referee role given to the nation’s Shiite clergy, which holds enormous weight with the Shiite majority, that is the most contentious clause to Iraq’s other political groups.

“The marjaiyah has the final say in solving all the disputes between the two sides and its directives and guidance are binding,” the agreement said, referring to the religious Shiite leadership based in the holy city of Najaf.

The need to bring in the highest religious authorities of Iraq’s Shiites is a reflection of the deep distrust between the two rival blocs, but it would also give a government formed by the coalition an overtly religious character.

Neighboring Iran, a Shiite theocracy where clerics have the final word on all matters of state, carries great influence with both groups and has long pushed for such an alliance.

The provision only applies to the alliance, not officially to any new government.

But if the Shiite alliance dominates the next government, clerics would potentially have a direct say in policy.

The merger also means that the top vote-getter in the election, secular Shiite Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya list, which received strong Sunni backing, will be squeezed out of the process – angering his supporters.

© Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email